WHEN Joanne Ward and husband Darren arrived home from hospital following the birth of their second son, they were full of all the hope and excitement for the future that any new parent experiences.
They could never know that within a few days their whole lives would be turned upside down forever when Joanne suffered a heart attack at the age of just 30.
She suffered from a rare condition called spontaneous dissection of the coronary artery which led to the attack four days after the birth of Tyler, who was a younger brother for their other son Callum.
Heart bypass surgery was carried out immediately, but five years on and Joanne, from Kiveton Park, is still living with the effects of the events of that day - having been diagnosed with heart failure which leaves her suffering breathlessness and palpitations and living with angina.
Now she has become one of the faces leading a new British Heart Foundation campaign which wants to raise £50 million over the next five years to fund a new programme of research in regenerative medicine to find a cure for heart failure.
The Mending Broken Hearts project is the charity’s most ambitious appeal yet and has been launched to coincide with its 50th anniversary.
Joanne’s story is featuring in a series of national television adverts as well as in campaign material which will be used all over the country to raise awareness and encourage fundraisers to get on board in support of the project.
She said she was thrilled to be involved in the campaign.
“I have to try and find the positives in my situation and I think my positive is helping to raise awareness of theses conditions and the amazing work the British Heart Foundation does,” she said.
“I know I am very lucky to have come through my condition - and I think my reason for that is to spread the word. Being involved gives me hope that something can be done to help in the fight against heart failure - because you just never know what is around the corner, as my case proves.”
Joanne’s problems first began on day four at home after Tyler’s birth when she began suffering a “niggling pain” between her shoulder blades.
“I had Tyler on the Friday and the first weekend at home was fine - we had friends and family over as you do with a new baby and it was an exciting time as you can imagine.
“But by the Monday I had started with this pain which just got worse and worse. It spread down my arm and to my jaw and it was pain like nothing I’d ever known - particularly bearing in mind I’d just given birth!”
Darren, 40, called out the doctor who diagnosed back spasms and prescribed painkillers.
But throughout that evening and during the night, nothing helped.
They contacted the doctor again but by 9am the midwife had arrived - who immediately raised the alarm and called for an ambulance which took her to Chesterfield Royal Hospital.
It was here that she was given the devastating news she had suffered a heart attack - and told she would need to be transferred for specialist treatment at the Northern General in Sheffield.
“I just thought ‘don’t be ridiculous - I’m only 30’,” Joanne said. “I honestly thought they must be mistaken.”
But the news only went from bad to worse - after being told on arrival in Sheffield that a double bypass was required because of the ruptured artery.
Darren and her family were told she only had a 10 per cent chance of surviving the operation.
She said: “It was only afterwards that I found out how serious it was and how close to dying and leaving the boys I came.
“Tyler wouldn’t even have known me at all - that I found quite scary.”
The operation went well but left Joanne unable to carry out any of her new mum duties for around three-and-a-half months.
“I couldn’t pick Tyler up for all of that time,” she said.
“Out of everything that happened, that was the worst thing. I couldn’t do any of the things you look forward to when you have a baby.”
Devastatingly, even after her recovery from the operation Joanne and Darren’s nightmare was not over.
Although the procedure had been a success, the heart attack had caused irreversible damage to the left ‘pumping’ side of her heart.
She was being considered for a transplant, but instead recently underwent another operation to fit a defibrillator pacemaker which she is now hoping will improve her quality of life.
“To be sidelined to some extent, sometimes make you feel like less of a parent, that somehow you are failing everyone.
“The guilt that you can’t do more and have to rely on others to do things you should be doing, that you know you could do if it wasn’t for your heart being faulty is sometimes just so overwhelming that you question why it happened to you.
“But although I might not be able to do all the things other mums do, at least I am here.”
- For more details about the Mending Broken Hearts project call 0300 333 0333 or visit bhf.org.uk/mbh.