My story

Mutual support: how Sue and her mum have got through bereavement and heart disease

Sue Hulme and her mother, Mary

Sue Hulme suffered a heart attack on the day her father died. Sarah Brealey hears how she and her mother gain strength from one another.

The 21st of September 2013 was the hardest day of Sue Hulme’s life. Her beloved father Terry had just died, and as she left his bedside, she felt ill. At first, she thought it was the trauma of loss, but she was shocked to discover she was having a heart attack.

The emotional impact of a heart attack can be difficult to deal with at the best of times. For Sue, who is 64 and from Folkestone, it was doubly difficult to deal with at a time of bereavement. Then, nine months later, Sue’s sister Jane died at the age of 60 after a 10-year illness. As Sue says: “Sometimes you feel that fate has got it in for you.”

But with help from her family – especially her mum– and cardiac rehabilitation, she has come through it.

Sudden blow

Sue's parentsSue, who has worked as a legal secretary and police officer, as well as running a business with her then husband, retired in 2011 but still considered herself someone who “lives life at 1,000 miles an hour”.

Having to slow down after her heart attack was difficult and “was so much worse, because when I came home, my father was no longer there”.

She was particularly close to her parents, having lived with them since 2007 after her marriage broke down. She describes their home of 43 years as “a sanctuary for all the family”.

Sue vividly recalls the day of her father’s death. “On the Thursday, he was lively and well. On Saturday morning, he became ill suddenly and needed to go into hospital. He’d been in hospital previously, and we all thought he’d come home like he had before. But he died later that evening. All the family managed to get there; we were all with him at the end.”

When I came home, my father was no longer there

Reeling from the shock, Sue started to feel clammy and sick. She says: “I felt faint. My legs were like jelly. I felt like I couldn’t stand up.”

Her niece Bex called for help and Sue was quickly taken to A&E. “I was having all these tests, and I was violently sick. Then I had this pain across both arms as if someone was squeezing the life out of me. It was such a pain as I have never had before or since.”

Because she was fit and a keen runner, didn’t smoke and wasn’t overweight, she was deeply shocked when a doctor told her she’d had a heart attack. “I never in a million years thought something like that would happen to me,” she says.

Sue had an angioplasty and stent procedure and was in hospital for four days. When she left hospital, she and her mother, Mary, stayed with her brother, Jon, for three weeks, while he helped look after them.

Supporting each other

Sue Hulme and her mother, Mary

Sue is grateful for all that her parents have done for her, and now that her mother Mary is getting older, she is trying to return the favour. “We look after each other,” she says. “I think that is the best way. It is reciprocal. Sometimes, Mum says, ‘You do all this for me,’ but I say, ‘You have done so much for me.’”

Mary has high blood pressure and other health issues. Sue tries to take care of her mum “in ways that my dad used to”, whether that means taking her to appointments or to visit friends, making her bed or looking after her when she’s feeling ill. “It isn’t much. They have helped me no end,” she says.

We prop each other up when we need it

Sue believes the passing of time and this mutual support have helped her to heal physically. Mother and daughter have been able to help each other emotionally, too.

“I am like my dad; I am optimistic, a glass half-full person, whereas Mum is the other way round,” says Sue. “I chivvy her up; I say it is going to be fine. But she’s a tough old bird, and she helps me too – we prop each other up when we need it.”

Sue Hulme and her mother Mary on the Eurostar

After she had recovered from her hospital stay, Sue started attending weekly cardiac rehabilitation classes. They helped her to get active again, as well as providing emotional support. “The rehab staff were wonderful,” says Sue. “I gave them a card at the end, which said, ‘You go the extra mile for us so we can go the extra mile for ourselves.’”

Sue used to be a keen runner, but finds it more difficult since her heart attack. She tries to keep active in the garden and eats healthily.

Springtime in Paris

In April, Sue and her mum went to Paris – a treat for Mary’s 89th birthday and an opportunity to watch her grandson Joe (Sue’s nephew) do the Paris marathon. Sue says: “Paris was amazing. Mum was fantastic, we took her on the Metro, on an open top bus and she even experienced the crowds after the marathon, which are definitely not for the faint hearted!”

They also visited the famous Galeries Lafayette department store, and are hoping to return to Paris in September to take in more of the sights.Mary underneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris

Sue knows her time with her mum won’t last forever, but in the meantime, they can cherish each other’s company. “She says she’s not ready to go yet. I hope we will have many more years.”

Despite everything that has happened, Sue tries to keep things in perspective. “I know there are lots of people worse off than us.”

Even the worst things that have happened to them have given rise to hope. During Sue’s sister’s illness, her nephew Tom started doing charity challenges such as marathons and Ironman events. Fundraising efforts have been a comfort and a support to the whole family. “It gives us something to focus on. I think God works in mysterious ways, and that is something positive that has come from all this.”

Read the inspiring story of Eric Pemberton, who lost his daughter while dealing with heart problems.

Carers’ Week 2017

Carers’ Week is an awareness-raising week from 12 to 18 June 2017. You can access NHS information for carers and people who have care and support needs. If you want to talk to someone about how to get support as a carer, call the Carers Direct helpline on 0300 123 1053.

The Carers Trust website has information for carers – including a directory of local carers’ services. You can also email [email protected] or call 0844 800 4361.

Cardiac rehab

Cardiac rehabilitation provides all the help you need in getting back to as full a life as possible after a heart event, such as a heart attack, angioplasty or bypass surgery. As Sue Hulme found, it’s also about supporting you in living with your heart condition, staying as healthy as possible and reducing the chance of another heart event.

Even if you’ve only had a brief stay in hospital after a heart attack or angioplasty and are feeling well, you should attend rehab to learn how to manage your condition in the long term and how to reduce your risk as much as you can.

So do attend if you’re invited – and if it’s been a couple of months since your heart event and you haven’t had an invitation, ask your GP or hospital doctor to refer you and make sure you attend the sessions.

More useful information