Losing a loved one to endocarditis: Helen's story

Helen Moulford lost her husband Bill to endocarditis in February 2015. She tells Senior Cardiac Nurse Emily Reeve their story, and explains why she wants to raise awareness.

Helen and Bill Moulford

Helen Moulford says her husband Bill was her “soul mate”. Together, they were raising a three-year-old daughter and two children from Helen’s previous relationship. She still misses him every day, following his death from endocarditis in February 2015.

Bill’s heart murmur was detected during a routine medical when he was 33. He had a bicuspid aortic valve – a relatively common abnormality of the heart, which often causes no problems.

“He was told his heart was otherwise fine and he’d be reviewed again when he reached 65,” says Helen. Bill knew it was important to look after his teeth. People with any type of heart valve abnormality are at risk of endocarditis, which can be caused by dental bacteria entering the bloodstream. He was rigorous about his dental hygiene and saw the dentist regularly.

"It is hard to diagnose" 

The GPs were wonderful, they just weren’t aware of the risk

In 2014, Bill fell ill. “He got a really bad cough,” Helen says. “They suspected it was whooping cough. A chest X-ray showed his lungs were clear; they gave him antibiotics and it got better; he stopped the antibiotics; they gave him steroids and blood tests. This cycle went on for five months.”

Flu-like symptoms that don’t go away can be a sign of endocarditis, but no one spotted it. “He was losing weight and wasn’t sleeping properly,” says Helen. “I was frantic because my beloved man wasn’t getting any better. We kept going back to the doctor. The GPs were wonderful, they just weren’t aware of the risk of endocarditis. It is hard to diagnose.”

Helen and Bill Moulford with their family

Bill got progressively worse. One day it dawned on Helen that he might actually die. “It was such an awful feeling,” she says. “We rushed him into hospital and within two hours the young man in the assessment unit said: ‘It’s his heart. There’s a massive infection in his aortic valve.’ To us, this seemed like good news, that it meant they could cure it, but it was too late.

“You never get over the trauma of holding your loved one in your arms and watching them die. I still miss him terribly.”

Raising awareness

I really don’t want it to happen to anyone else

Now, Helen wants to raise awareness of endocarditis in people who are at risk. She says: “I really don’t want it to happen to anyone else. We were taking all the precautions, so we didn’t think about his heart. “If you get something that looks like flu and it doesn’t go away, seek medical attention and insist that they check your heart. If they find it, they can treat it and you have a good chance of survival.”

Research into endocarditis 

We’re trying to stop people suffering from endocarditis. Professor Jennifer Potts is a BHF Senior Research Fellow at the University of York. Her lab looks at the structure and function of proteins on the surface of bacteria and how these cause endocarditis. Her team is studying how bacteria are able to form antibiotic-resistant colonies on the surfaces of heart valves and devices such as pacemaker leads. If we understand this, we may be able to prevent endocarditis in future.

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