Heart failure patients too afraid to hug their children as Covid fears soar

Áine Fitzgerald


Áine Fitzgerald



Heart failure patients too afraid to hug their children as Covid fears soar

Heart failure patient and advocate, Pauline O'Shea, with her daughter Ali, says it is time to move high risk heart patients up the priority list

A MOTHER diagnosed with heart failure has revealed how some fellow patients have stopped hugging their children when they return from school because they are terrified of contracting Covid-19.

Mum-of-three Pauline O’Shea, who lives in Ardnacrusha and was diagnosed with heart failure aged 38, said she and many other similar patients across Ireland were warned of the grave risk Covid poses to those with heart and respiratory issues – yet they remain at level seven of the vaccine rollout.

Some have told the Irish Heart Foundation they also instruct their children to change out of their uniforms before entering the family home.   

Their fears emerged as studies show more than half of heart failure patients hospitalised with Covid are dying from the virus – now the charity wants an “urgent review” of the vaccine priority list to include such patients.  

Younger people living with severe heart failure are not deemed at very high risk under the national immunisation programme, prompting the HSE’s National Heart Programme to call for under 70s, along with in-patients awaiting cardiac surgery, to be moved from level seven to level four.  

“Before my nine-year-old daughter returned to school this week, she wrote in her homework: ‘my mum has a heart condition and I’m worried I’ll give her Covid’,” said Pauline.   

“This week alone, my children are in three different classrooms with anywhere from 10 to 30 children in each; that means I am indirectly exposed to up to 70 people - children, teens and young adults, any of whom might be carrying Covid 19.”  

Pauline, 47, had open heart surgery in 2012 after developing Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection – a tearing of the wall of the artery. 

“I have had three heart attacks, gone into cardiac arrest, been in ICU, on a ventilator, I don’t need to go back there with Covid. 

“I know another heart patient with two younger children who change out of their school uniforms before she can safely give them a hug.   

“It’s very tough, but her condition is so serious that she can’t risk getting Covid-19 because she knows it could rob those children of their mother.”  

UK research shows the 30-day mortality rate of patients with acute heart failure nearly doubled during the pandemic, while a Dutch study shows Covid-19 patients with severe heart failure are 37% more likely to die compared to other hospitalised Covid patients.  

HSE data to mid-December showed that of 1,866 Covid-19 deaths, 93% had a known underlying condition - and 41% of these had chronic heart disease - the most common type of condition.  

The Irish Heart Foundation’s Medical Director, Dr Angie Brown, said there is broad consensus among cardiologists and the HSE’s own National Heart Programme that younger heart failure patients and those awaiting cardiac surgery who are at very high risk from Covid, are vaccinated without delay.  “Studies emerging on the impact of Covid on heart failure patients in particular are extremely worrying and require us to do more for those at higher risk,” she said.  

“We know that the National Heart Programme has challenged the prioritisation of heart failure patients and inpatients awaiting surgery. We are calling on the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, to order an urgent review of the priority level for these patients to ensure lives are not put at unnecessary risk.”