Five years ago, “out of the blue”, after originally seeing a doctor complaining of cold, bruised feet, Catherine Campbell found herself undergoing heart surgery.
Catherine, 48, from St Mellons, Cardiff, said: “I had been having problems with my feet. They were extremely cold and bruised and I had no idea why so I decided I should get it checked with a doctor.
“During the winter months they were just colder than ever and socks just wouldn’t keep them warm. They were painful too. After doing some research I assumed I had something called Raynaud’s, which is quite a common condition that affects the blood supply to certain parts of the body, usually the fingers and toes.
“When he looked at it, he referred me to an orthopaedic surgeon, then a vascular surgeon who performed various tests as it seemed it was actually a sign that something else might be wrong.
“I had an ultrasound, followed by an MRI scan and they found a blood clot in my foot which was causing the circulation to be cut off and that’s why it was going black.
“He organised an electrocardiogram but I just thought it was a normal ECG but it wasn’t. He put a line into my wrist then used a solution to do what they call a bubble test.
“That was when they told me I had a hole in my heart. I couldn’t believe it. It was a complete shock. It came completely out of the blue.”
Catherine had never had any health problems or any indication that might suggest she had a heart condition.
“I was the most competitive person at school,” she said. “I was in every single team and loved athletics, especially the 100 and 200m. I believe that about one in 10 people are born with a hole in the heart but problems don’t always occur until later in life, like in my case.
“My feet were feeling so cold because the circulation was affected due to the hole in my heart but I suppose you would never really connect a problem foot with a heart problem, which is why it’s worth knowing the various symptoms for the various types of heart disease and problems that exist.
“I would always say to people not to write anything off. If you’re worried about something, if something doesn’t seem quite right, then it’s always worth getting it checked.”
Catherine, who has a daughter Imogen, who is 19 and at university in Birmingham, was told she would be operated on via keyhole surgery and only needed to spend one night in hospital.
She recovered well with plenty of rest but the operation to repair the hole in heart (by inserting a metal device to the hole for new heart muscles to grow over it) didn’t fix her feet.
She said: “I had a general anaesthetic but I was back to work and feeling great within eight days.”
It healed well but she still suffers with pains in her feet, particularly if it is cold or she has been wearing high heels for too long.
At the time of her diagnosis, Catherine was running two businesses in Newport, selling fashion and accessories and she had many customers.
But Catherine Campbell now has a new job, one that brings an awful lot of job satisfaction.
She has been working as the South East Wales fundraising manager for the British Heart Foundation since March and says there’s something very appealing abut working for an organisation that, pardon the pun, is so close to her heart.
“I’ve been there since March, I’m really enjoying it and it’s going really well. It’s lovely to work for an organisation which is so close to my heart. It’s a different platform for me and it’s so interesting meeting people from all sorts of backgrounds with different stories to tell.
“A few weeks ago, we did a sponsored toddle walk and it’s very varied and exciting.”
The BHF is the UK’s number one heart charity and works to raise money that will help research into fighting all the different types of heart disease.
They include angina, heart attack, heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms – as well as many other conditions, including congenital heart disease – those that you are born with, like Catherine.
She says: “For me, working at the British Heart Foundation is important because I’ve been a beneficiary. I’m very passionate about the work that they do. Academically I’m a scientist and worked as a biologist for a textiles company, then I ran my own business and now this, which is very different.
“I decided to close the business last year, for various personal reasons, and when I saw the opportunity to work for BHF I jumped at the chance. I started originally doing voluntary work and really enjoyed it so when the chance came to work in fund-raising in South Wales, I jumped at it.
“The BHF does such good work and is an essential tool in communicating about heart disease and I’m enjoying the challenge. The work they do is fantastic and I’m honoured to be on board.”
HEART DISEASE SUPPORT:
Although many people think of heart disease as a man’s problem, women can and do get heart disease, both coronary and congenital (presenting abnormalities in the heart).
More than 1,800 women in Wales die from coronary heart disease each year, according to Welsh mortality statistics 2011.
It kills nearly three times as many women as breast cancer and is the single biggest killer of women across the UK.
Catherine was shocked to discover she had a hole in her heart but said she found the British Heart Foundation website a great help in support and researching her condition.
It has a separate section solely for women, featuring women with all sorts of stories to tell.
There are downloadable information sheets available at on the British Heart Foundation’s website.