A heart patient reports back from a European conference

Emily Jay

Emily Jay, 23, from Staffordshire, who has congenital heart disease, attended a European heart conference as a patient representative. Here she reports back on her experience.

I was extremely lucky to be asked to accompany the British Heart Foundation delegation to the European Heart Network Annual Workshop and General Assembly in Bucharest, Romania as a young patient representative.

I have been a heart patient all my life, having been born with a condition called transposition of the great arteries along with pulmonary stenosis and ventricular septum defect. However, it was only recently that my understanding of it deepened as I underwent my third open heart surgery last December.

Cardiovascular disease is the cause of a third of all deaths in the world

Promoting awareness of heart disease is something I am now passionate about and so it was an absolutely wonderful experience to be part of this year’s European Heart Network annual gathering.

The workshop opened with some beautiful philosophical quotes delivered by Professor Dan Gaiță, President of the Romanian Heart Foundation. We heard how Romanians believe that their soul is inside their heart, and so therefore it is especially important to take good care of our hearts. We also heard about the enormity of cardiovascular disease across the globe – it is currently the number one killer in the world and is likely to remain so for the next 20 years. It is the cause of a third of all deaths in the world, and in the UK alone, 440 people lose their lives to cardiovascular disease per day. 

Listening to these statistics was very moving, and I found comfort in knowing that I was in a room of people from all over Europe who were all equally as passionate about the fight against cardiovascular disease. We began to hear stories from our European friends about how heart disease affected them in their different countries.

BCS conf Emily Jay (left) and Geoffrey Roughton with BHF nursesThe Romanian diet, for example, tends to include a high amount of salt, whereas in the UK, although most of us still eat too much salt, this is an area where improvements have been made in recent years. The new voluntary front of pack traffic light system that now appears on a lot of food packaging in the UK was discussed and highly commended.

Members of the group also shared ways in which they were committed to fighting heart disease in their own countries. The Finnish Heart Association told us about their ‘lipstick revolution’ event, in which women are encouraged to wear a brighter lipstick than normal in order to raise awareness of heart disease. 45,000 people took part in their most recent event and thousands of pictures were shared on social media.

Also, the Dutch Heart Foundation told us how they were planning to break the world record for the largest amount of people performing CPR at one time. They have since succeeded in doing this - 3,242 secondary school students all performed CPR on mannequins for 30 minutes, helping raise awareness of sudden cardiac arrest and the importance of CPR at the same time.

It has only fuelled my passion for beating heart disease and raising awareness further

I was also fortunate enough to sit in on a session about tobacco control at the Romanian Parliament which was extremely interesting. I learnt how tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the world and that it is responsible for taking nearly 6 million lives per year. I listened to MEPs discuss the idea that tobacco use is a disease, not a habit, and how raising taxes on tobacco was the most effective way of discouraging people to smoke.

It wasn’t all negative discussion however – I heard how 1.1 billion people (which equals 16% of the world’s population) across 43 different countries are now covered by the smoking ban indoors. This is a very impressive number and will have had an enormous positive effect, and I know the British Heart Foundation was key in implementing this in the UK.

My time spent in Romania at the European Heart Network Annual Workshop was incredibly inspirational, and I am extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to go along and participate and meet such wonderful people. It has only fuelled my passion for beating heart disease and raising awareness further, and I am excited to see what the British Heart Foundation has planned for the next few years in the UK’s fight against premature death due to heart disease.

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