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Young dad speaks out as Northern Ireland survey reveals 50% of heart patients are living with mental health issues

Michael Harp was diagnosed with AVRC after a park run in 2016
Michael Harp was diagnosed with AVRC after a park run in 2016
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A man from Londonderry has told of how he developed anxiety after discovering he had a heart problem.

Michael Harp, who now lives in Belfast, was diagnosed with an inherited heart condition called arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (AVRC), which is a rare disease of the heart muscle.

It comes as a new survey carried out by British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland (BHF NI) suggests that more than half of people living with heart and circulatory diseases in the province have experienced feelings related to anxiety or depression, but many are not getting the help they need.

Michael, a father-of-one, considered himself to be a fit and healthy marathon runner before he collapsed when taking part in his local park run in 2016. He assumed he was dehydrated, but tests revealed that his heart rhythm was irregular.

After being referred to the inherited cardiac conditions (ICC) clinic, Michael was told he had AVRC and was fitted with a implantable cardioverter defibrillator, something he is still in disbelief about.

"In March this year I blacked out in my kitchen, and after meeting with my consultant she said my condition had progressed and I may need a heart transplant at some point in the future," Michael explained.

Following his diagnosis, Michael said it has left him with feelings of anxiety and he even worries about crossing the street.

"Some nights it's hard to sleep because you lie awake worrying about what might happen next or what impact it might have on my son or fiancee," he said.

"It's hard not to look up the condition online and read frightening stories about what happened to other people with the same condition," the 39-year-old added.

Thankfully, Michael can now rely on the ICC clinic team for their reassurance and support.

"I think, although the physical side of the diagnosis is difficult, how it impacts you mentally is also incredibly important because it changes your whole life," he said.

Fearghal McKinney, head of BHF NI, added: "Cases like Michael's show the impact that heart conditions have on someone's mental health and it is essential everyone should have access to the best available physical and psychological support, treatment and care.

"We would encourage anyone who is feeling overwhelmed to talk to a friend or a partner, or ask your GP for advice."

The BHF provides support through its Heart Helpli ne on 0300 330 3311. People living with heart and circulatory diseases can receive advice through Health Unlocked, an online peer support service. For further advice, check out the BHF website and Heart Matters

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