A Cheshire woman is celebrating Christmas, two years after almost dying from a serious heart condition.

Heather McDonald, from Tarvin, is supporting the British Heart Foundation's campaign to make Christmas wishes come true by asking people to support BHF charity shops, make a donation, or take on a fundraising event.

Heather, aged 58, has heart failure caused by a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, where the heart muscle becomes stretched and too weak to pump blood round the body effectively. It can result in fluid build-up, fatigue, and breathlessness.

Heather first began feeling unwell in August 2017. She said, "I started to feel a bit breathless, so I went to the doctor who said it was most likely asthma. It got worse and worse over the next few months and I knew that it was something serious. Then, four days before Christmas, I went to see the doctor again. By that point I had severe water retention; I had put on five and a half stone of fluid, and water was leaking out of my arms and legs. The doctor told me to go straight to the Countess of Chester Hospital, where they confirmed I was gravely ill.

"It wasn't a shock that I was seriously ill, but I was shocked that the problem was my heart," said Heather. "I thought I had severe asthma. Being told that my heart was only working at 17% of its capacity, and the only cure is a heart transplant, was so much worse than I thought."

Heather was put on medication, including tablets to treat her water retention. It took a year for her to be well enough to have a special kind of pacemaker fitted, and the day she went into hospital for her pre-operative assessment, her mum passed away.

"She was really worried about me having the operation, and I don't think she could bear it," said Heather. "I still went ahead with the operation, as I knew that's what she would have wanted me to do."

Heather had the procedure on 7 January last year, and admits she thought she may not see another Christmas: "I've realised how important it is to enjoy life while you can. My wish this Christmas is for everyone to get the care that I had, so they can enjoy more time with their loved ones. Research can save lives -- it definitely saved mine."

Heather began feeling better as soon as her pacemaker was fitted. "I've noticed a marvellous improvement. Before the operation I couldn't walk from the bed to the bathroom, now I can go out for proper walks. It's unbelievable compared to where I was two years ago. My legs are less than half the size they were.

"I owe everything to Prof Somauroo and his team, the Countess of Chester Hospital, the cardiac rehabilitation classes I attended, and the information and support I received from the British Heart Foundation. As there's no cure for heart failure I can't get completely better, but with my pacemaker I'm better than I was. It's hard because heart failure is an invisible illness. If outwardly you look OK, people don't understand that your life is limited."

Heather has been forced to retire due to her health. When Heather is feeling stronger, she hopes to volunteer in a BHF shop as a way to spend time with people and help others in her situation. She also plans to volunteer as a speaker at a heart support group.

"It's a hell of a journey. It's a rollercoaster, you get good days and bad. When you're faced with life-threatening situations, it helps to have people talking about their similar situations and how they got through it. So I want to give back and help other people, if I can," she said.

The British Heart Foundation is the UK's biggest funder of research into heart and circulatory diseases, such as heart attacks and stroke, and their risk factors, such as diabetes. The BHF is currently supporting 70 research projects worth over £23million in the North West of England. The region has the worst heart health in the country; there are over 96,000 people in Cheshire living with heart and circulatory diseases, and the number of people in the North West being admitted to hospital due to heart failure has risen by almost half (48%) in the last five years -- the sharpest rise in the country.

Donating just £2 can help BHF researchers visualise faulty heart cells under the microscope, allowing them to understand more about life-threatening conditions like heart failure.

To support the BHF and make Christmas wishes come true, visit bhf.org.uk/Christmas.

About the BHF
With donations from the public, the BHF funds groundbreaking research that will get us closer than ever to a world free from the fear of heart and circulatory diseases. A world where broken hearts are mended, where millions more people survive a heart attack, where the number of people dying from or disabled by a stroke is slashed in half. A world where people affected by heart and circulatory diseases get the support they need. And a world of cures and treatments we can't even imagine today. We are backing the best ideas, the brightest minds and the biggest ambitions -- because that's how we'll beat heartbreak forever.
Find out more at bhf.org.uk