Radio Ulster presenter Kim Lenaghan on how working too hard and moving house contributed to her recent health scare
Popular Radio Ulster presenter Kim Lenaghan tells how working too hard and moving house contributed to her recent health scare — and why she will be donating blood as soon as she is well enough to do so
Happiness radiates from Kim Lenaghan as she sits in the kitchen of her beautiful Edwardian east Belfast home, opening her heart for the first time about the health scare which put her off air for four weeks in January.
The popular BBC Radio Ulster presenter shocked fans and friends when she announced on social media that she had been unexpectedly admitted to hospital on January 3.
What followed was a wave of well-wishes from hundreds of listeners - indeed, such was the outpouring of concern and affection for the star, that nearly seven weeks later Kim still feels humbled and overwhelmed by it.
Her rock throughout her recent illness was her husband of two years Andrew Jones, who never left her side during the four days she spent in hospital and the following three weeks she spent recovering at the home they had only moved into a few months earlier.
That she is grateful for the support is obvious as she pauses to control her emotion, while thanking everyone for their love during that difficult period.
"It was incredible," she says. "People talk about positive energy and there was so much support that I couldn't help but get better.
"I couldn't believe the response. It was the loveliest thing ever and I got hundreds of messages and cards and gifts.
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"I feel so blessed. Everywhere I go people come up to me and talk to me about the shows and they treat me like a friend and it is so lovely.
"I am very open about stuff and I did want to let people know how I was doing. To say that I am grateful for the good wishes would be the understatement of the century. I still feel very emotional when I think about it."
Kim was admitted to hospital urgently just a few hours after visiting her GP for blood tests to discover why she was feeling tired. A call to go straight to A&E on the same day was the last thing she was expecting.
Tests revealed she had dangerously low levels of iron and needed immediate blood transfusions, and over the ensuing four days she had four blood transfusions as well as an iron infusion..
Kim says that she had been struggling with fatigue coming up to Christmas, but had put it down to being busy.
"I was getting more and more tired but I had just moved home, was doing a new series of the Festive Foodie and then there was Christmas," she says. "I also spent the new year catering for the masses and I was feeling exhausted. Andrew kept on at me to go to the doctor and I finally went on January 3.
"I got blood tests done at 12.30 that day and then at 4.30 that afternoon I got a call from my doctor saying he didn't wish to alarm me but that I should go to A&E immediately as my iron levels were critically low.
"Apparently they should be 150 and mine were 50!
"It was a huge shock to have blood tests around 12 and then find myself lying in a hospital bed a few hours later having a blood transfusion. It was so out of the blue, especially as my only symptom was that I was feeling tired.
"My iron levels were so low that the doctors told me I shouldn't even have been up and walking, I shouldn't have been able to function."
There was a scary period when Kim underwent a batch of tests to discover if there was an underlying cause for her dramatic drop in iron levels and she was very relieved to discover that she was otherwise in great health.
The cause for her low iron remains unexplained, but looking back she's convinced it was due to a particularly hectic year.
Kim and Andrew moved to their dream home last summer - a detached Edwardian townhouse, close to trendy Ballyhackamore, which they are now putting their own stamp on.
The couple, who share their home with their beloved rescue pet lurchers Mabel (2) and Ben (13), tied the knot less than three months after a chance meeting outside Belfast airport two years ago.
In what was a whirlwind romance, they had only known each other 12 weeks when Andrew proposed on their fourth date.
The couple married in a romantic registry office ceremony in London in March 2017 followed by a reception in the high-end London restaurant The Delaunay.
Devoted to each other, they affectionately refer to themselves as 'Team Jones' and both were understandably left reeling when Kim was admitted to hospital so suddenly.
"Andrew was my absolute rock when I was in hospital. I was lucky to be in a side room and you can't imagine how busy the staff were but they were really good in letting Andrew stay," Kim says.
"He slept in a horrible hard hospital chair all night and then went home for a couple of hours and came back again. I kept telling him to go home but he wouldn't leave me and stayed with me the whole time.
"I'm not the easiest patient and I did get frustrated and tired, but Andrew sat and looked after me and held my hand and made me laugh. He is the best husband you could ever have.
"It was a big shock to both of us. He is a very calm and organised person and when things happen he deals with them so while outwardly he was organising everything, inside he too was scared.
"When you marry, it is in sickness and in health and he certainly proved that he took those vows seriously."
Kim spent just three weeks getting her strength back, but it will be some time before her iron levels return to what they should be.
She says the experience has left her with a new appreciation of life as well as a deep gratitude to the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service and the National Health Service. Known for her love of good food through her popular Radio Ulster series The Foodie, Kim has always tried to eat healthy.
However, since her illness she now concedes that her lifestyle was not as healthy as she thought.
"It is a bit of a wake-up call," she admits. "I have always thought I should take supplements and good multi-vitamins but never got round to it, but now I take a whole pile of stuff every day.
"I would have prided myself in eating really healthily, but the truth is I'm terrible about skipping meals when I am really busy so I am trying to cut that out.
"I think as women in particular we don't tend to put ourselves first and look after ourselves. I would just say to people who are feeling exhausted or tired, not to think it is just because they have been busy but to go to their GP and get checked out.
"I would really like to mention the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service. Again, I've said for years that I must give blood and I never got round to it but when my iron levels return to normal I will be donating my blood.
"I have a fairly rare blood type and someone took the time to donate their blood and that saved my life and that is a massive gift so I would say to people reading this 'please give blood'.
"Also we all know our nurses are under pressure, but it is only when you are in hospital and see it first-hand that you can really appreciate just how difficult the conditions they are working in are and how stretched the resources are.
"I have always admired our nurses and experiencing it up close, not just the care they give, but all the support staff in the hospital, was amazing. They are so pleasant and patient and hard working and I was just left in awe of them. I don't think I personally recognised enough just what a service they give to all of us."
Thousands of listeners across Northern Ireland enjoy waking up to her mix of chat and music every Saturday and Sunday at 7am and Kim evidently hated having to take time off.
Radio Ulster colleague Kerry McLean kept her studio seat warm while she was recuperating and, although it will be some time before she is back to full strength, she is thrilled to be back at work.
"I had to get back, I missed it too much and I missed all of my listeners too. Kerry did a fantastic job," she says.
"It was lovely for people to say they were looking forward to me coming back and they missed me which is something I appreciate enormously."
After such an unexpected start to the new year, Kim says she has a new appreciation of her job and her life with Andrew.
She adds: "Andrew and I are renovating our new home and at the moment we are putting a new kitchen in. Over the next couple of years we will work on the garden. We are taking our time as this is our forever home and we will never leave here.
"We are so lucky to have such a beautiful house and share it with our two dogs. Life is good.
"Andrew and I will be married two years on March 25, but it feels like we have been together forever. I now can't imagine my life without him or what it was like before I met him.
"It's like it has always been like this and we are so supportive of one another and make a great team. We call ourselves Team Jones."
Kim adds: "When you have been ill and suddenly confronted with something very serious it feels like you have been given a second chance. It has made me realise what an incredibly lucky woman I am to have my husband, great friends, a lovely place to live and a job I adore.
"I just want to spend the rest of my year enjoying what I have. It is the little things in life that are important and hopefully I will be recovered enough to cook Andrew a very special dinner on our second anniversary."
- Kim Lenaghan, Radio Ulster, Saturday and Sunday, 7am