“It can feel like there’s constantly a kangaroo inside my chest.” Vicky Small was diagnosed with heart failure in her 30s. Now 46, she discusses what it’s like to live with this debilitating long-term condition, and her hopes for the future.
When were you diagnosed with heart failure?
“I’ve had heart problems my whole life, as I was born with a hole in my heart.
“Then, when I was 15, I went to hospital with really bad palpitations and found out that my mitral valve wasn’t working properly. This valve stops blood flowing the wrong way in the heart, so I needed an operation to correct it.
“Unfortunately, the faulty valve left my heart with permanent damage – one of the top chambers was twice as big as it should have been.
“I was in and out of hospital many times after that until, aged 33, I was given the news that I had heart failure.
“When I heard the diagnosis, I thought my life was over. I had no idea it could be something that you can live with for many years, and I feel grateful that I have the right support in place so that I can still enjoy the simple things in life.”
I try to take one day at a time, and have faith that one day I’ll be one of the lucky ones who gets a transplant and that I live a long, happy life.
What is living with heart failure like on an average day?
“Heart failure affects me in so many ways. I always feel drained and exhausted. My face, hands, stomach, feet and ankles swell up, and I’ve gained weight. I also have palpitations – it feels like there is constantly a kangaroo inside my chest.
“Mentally, it’s tough too. I would love to do what people take for granted, and go on a Sunday ramble, or enjoy dancing again.
“Yet even with all of that going on, I still feel so incredibly lucky to be alive and have what I have. Every day I wake up, and life generally, is a privilege. I try and make the best I can of it because there are so many who don’t get the opportunity to.”
What does your future look like?
“I was assessed for a heart transplant, but the risk of something going wrong was too high. The doctors and I decided that the risk would only be worth taking if my condition worsens and it seems like I might not survive for very long without a transplant.
“I try to take one day at a time, and have faith that one day I’ll be one of the lucky ones who gets a transplant and that I live a long, happy life.
“Knowing that the British Heart Foundation is funding research that helps to discover new treatments and medicines for heart failure gives me hope that one day I might be able to do all the things I want to do again. I have no doubt that without the incredible work that the BHF do, I would not even be here today.”