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Don’t die of embarrassment, call 999. IHF launch new campaign

Westlife’s Nicky Byrne backs Irish Heart Foundation campaign urging Irish men to ‘Listen to your heart, not your head’.


Don’t die of embarrassment is the hard-hitting message from the Irish Heart Foundation urging Irish men not to delay in calling 999 for emergency treatment if they think they are having a heart attack. The new initiative which is due to appear on Irish TV screens on 21st August, is backed by Westlife’s Nicky Byrne and his family after his father, Nikki Byrne Senior passed away from heart attack in 2009.

Every year in Ireland about 6,300 people suffer a heart attack but it is estimated that only half of these cases (50%) will present to hospital by ambulance. This fact, combined with personal loss, inspired Nicky Byrne and his family to help save lives by working with the Irish Heart Foundation to encourage the nation’s men to call 999 in the event of heart attack symptoms. Last October the Byrne family hosted a Twilight Ball in memory of their father and husband which raised vital funding for the charity and kick-started the new national awareness campaign for TV and radio featuring a voiceover by Nicky Byrne.

Attending the launch of the campaign at the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin with his family, Nicky Byrne said: “We all know someone who has had a heart attack and the symptoms are not always what you think. It does not always have to be a Hollywood heart attack. That’s what happened to my dad. He wasn’t feeling well but like many men, he didn’t want to cause a fuss. He had a pain in his lower stomach the day before he passed and we now know he was having a heart attack. At just 60 years old, he passed away in November 2009. Now I and my family want to spare other families the heartache and loss that we have gone through by raising awareness of the need to call 999 at the first sign of a heart attack. If we can help save one more life through this campaign, it will be worth it.”

With supplementary support from sponsors AstraZeneca, the Irish Heart Foundation aims to drive behaviour change particularly among the 50% of patients who do not call 999 at the first sign of a heart attack. In addition, to mark Heart Month this September the charity is launching a new booklet A man’s guide to heart health supported by the HSE, with positive steps to prevent a heart attack.

Figures from the CSO (Central Statistics Office, 2008) show that 83 per cent of premature deaths from heart attack under the age of 65 occur in men which is equal to five men dying prematurely every week or a total of 274 premature male deaths annually. The latest campaign is a national alert to men about the urgent nature of heart attack symptoms and the need to call 999 immediately.

Dr Angie Brown, Medical Director of the Irish Heart Foundation and consultant cardiologist said: “A heart attack is a serious medical emergency and every minute lost or delayed in getting treatment increases damage to the heart muscle and may even result in death. The weakest link in providing effective treatment for heart attack is patient delay in seeking care. Too often the signs are ignored until it is too late or delays occur by going first to the GP, calling a family member or friend or even by driving yourself to hospital which is extremely dangerous. Our message is simple – don’t die of embarrassment, pick up the phone and dial 999 immediately.”
An Irish Heart Foundation survey showed that in fact, 58% of Irish adults have good knowledge of heart attack symptoms and are able to name chest discomfort, shortness of breath and left arm pain. However according to the national charity’s Medical Director the bigger problem is behaviour – men’s reluctance to call 999.

Dr Brown added: “It is shocking to think that almost 6 out of 10 people know heart attack symptoms but when it comes to getting help, only half of these will arrive by ambulance. The good news is that when caught in time, there are good treatments available for heart attack. Survival rates can be improved by as much as 50% if patients access treatment within one hour of symptom onset.”

The new advertising campaign created by Rothco, has the full support of the Emergency Departments nationwide and the National Ambulance Service. Dr Una Geary, Clinical Lead for the National Emergency Medicine Programme said: “As a Consultant in Emergency Medicine I am delighted to see an ad campaign that highlights the emergency nature of heart attack and encourages men to call 999 if they think they are having one. Too often we see patients who delay in getting to hospital which can prove fatal. There is no time to lose, call 999. We know it can be difficult for patients to know if their symptoms are serious or not – that’s what we’re here for. We’d prefer to see a patient in the Emergency Department that we can send home because it turns out only to be indigestion, than have one arrive late with a heart attack where the options for treatment are less effective because of time wasted.”

Mr. Fergal Hickey, Consultant in Emergency Medicine and president of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine agreed: “Doctors in Emergency Departments and Cardiology have an adage Time is Muscle. The sooner we can get to a person with a heart attack and treat them with the excellent treatments available in 2011, the greater is their chance of survival and the more likely it is that they will be able to get back to living a full and rewarding life. Unless they make the decision to seek treatment, there is nothing the healthcare system can do for them, no matter what the treatment options are.”

Robert Morton, Director of the National Ambulance Service added: “In relation to heart disease and/or patients suffering a heart attack, our Ambulance Control staff, our Paramedics and our Advanced Paramedics undertake continual education to ensure we can identify patients suffering from a heart attack, dispatch the right help, assess their condition, commence life or heart saving treatment, manage their pain and get them safely to the most appropriate medical care. None of this can happen if we can’t find you and we can’t find you until you call us. Don’t delay, make sure we’re on the way – dial 999.”

The Irish Heart Foundation TV awareness campaign received significant funding from the Twilight Ball hosted by Nicky Byrne and his family which was supplemented by sponsors AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals in Ireland and donations from the Irish public. In addition the charity received a grant from Medtronic Foundation and the HSE provided funding towards the delivery of support materials such as the new booklet A man’s guide to heart health. Posters and flyers distributed to hospitals and GPs during September’s Heart Month will also help drive the potentially life-saving message – Don’t die of embarrassment, call 999 at the first sign of heart attack. Free copies of the booklet are available on request by calling 1850 364 364.

For more information see www.irishheart.ie