A young Newry mother-of-four, who was diagnosed with heart failure last year, says she’s now having to think about supporting her husband and children in a worst case scenario.
Sharon Hughes Magill is just 44 years of age; her youngest child is seven, but her life was immeasurably altered when she was diagnosed with heart failure in September 2022.
It was before that that Sharon noticed a big change. At first she was being treated for asthma but the problem, which started resulting in blood clots, was much worse.
“It was such a shock, I’m only in my 40s with four children,” Sharon told Armagh I.
She also fosters her young nephew; all-in-all it’s a busy household.
“The young doctor, I remember him saying to me, it’s not the life sentence it used to be, but when I started researching Dr Google – life expectancies five years; I had to start thinking about the bigger picture.
“I have children at home, I am married. I am the woman of the house that sorts bills, I do everything. I’m having to change my thought process, whereby I’m actually supporting my husband to learn how to do the stuff that I do.
“I’ve had to have difficult conversations because not only have I had the clots in the lungs, but then I developed another clot in my leg. So I’m having conversations about what happens to me if I die, and what happens to my children, and how’s my husband going to manage?
“It’s really hard to look at your children and think I might not see them making those milestones. My youngest is seven and he has a lot of his own complexities. It breaks my heart that there’s wee things that I want to do that I can’t do. It took a lot of time to get my head around the fact that the life that I had planned isn’t the life I’m going to have.”
However, Sharon is not letting her illness deter her.
She said: “I’m not letting it beat me; I’m looking at my children and I say to myself, ‘I’m fighting for them’. They need that, they need to see me pushing through.”
But Sharon admits it’s not always easy to wear the brave face and accept that she has a disability. It’s even harder when she experiences some of the things she does, which are beyond her control.
“I’ve been out for a walk and I have had this man shout at me because I’m walking so slow across the road and giving me abuse, and it’s so embarrassing,” she explained. “How do you say to people, I do have a disability but you can’t see it? He was shouting at me for taking my time and just being really rude.
“The whole thing has definitely made me re-look at everything in life, even a simple thing of having to move my bedroom downstairs.”
Sharon is one of a number of people who have come together to create a new support group for people with heart failure.
While the group – Heart Failure Warriors NI – might consist of people from the likes of Newry, Lurgan, Banbridge and south Armagh, it’s a group that hopes to spread its remit right across Northern Ireland.
It’s a recently established charity that is on hand to provide friendship, psychological support and educational and recreational activities for those affected and their carers.
Sharon works with the Southern Trust but has had to give up her role working with people who have challenging behaviour.
“I now work in an office and I have to reduce my hours. I get out of breath easily and walking, talking and exercising has a big impact on me. Even the simplest of things can be issues.
“As a result of the heart failure I was at home and I was off work for a long time and I was struggling. I reached out to Chest, Heart and Stroke and they introduced me to Nicole McKelvie, who then in turn told me that the heart failure nurses were going to be in contact and they were trying to start a group to support people who have suffered from heart failure and to learn if we would be interested in setting up a peer support group.
“Initially they were just thinking of establishing a charity that would service the Southern Trust area, but myself and Nicole and the other guys are quite strong-minded and we decided upon setting up an organisation that would be regional and not a postcode lotto.”
She added: “Nicole and her twin sister have both been diagnosed with heart failure but they live in different trusts. And the care they’re getting in different trusts is very different. It’s not fair that it should depend on where you live, whether you can get a service or not, so we want to make this Northern Ireland-wide.”
The group, which has achieved a lot in just a few short months, are holding an official launch night in the Belmont Hotel in Banbridge on Saturday, September 30.
Sharon concluded: “Heart failure doesn’t mean the end of the line; while it may be a chronic illness, and we’ll always be high risk, there’s no reason we can’t still live.”