Lesley Curley says she’s “back in control” a year after being diagnosed with heart failure. She tells FIONA FINCH why she is now helping to promote heart health for everyone with a special walk at popular Cumbrian beauty spot Tarn Hows
It was when Lesley Curley was having difficulty taking her dog for a walk that she knew she needed help.
She was struggling to keep up and suffering from shortness of breath.
Honey, her labrador/Jack Russell cross was keen to get out and so was Lesley, but the walks were just getting harder and harder.
She said:“I was taking my dog out four or six miles two or three times a day and all of a sudden I couldn’t even get 20 yards. I couldn’t get to the corner of the street.”
A doctor’s appointment triggered a quick sequence of further appointments which revealed the news she had heart failure. It was a wake up call for a woman who had previously enjoyed very energetic line dancing and zumba classes.Those went off the agenda promptly, as did her drinking habit and previous food choices:”It was a nasty shock, a sudden change to my life.”
Today Lesley is reconciled to her condition and believes she is healthier than before. She credits this to the local medical help she has received and a very inspiring charity which is indeed close to her heart - the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
Lesley, who formerly lived in Lostock Hall, Leyland and Much Hoole, but now lives at Capernwray, near Carnforth, said: “I’d heard of the charity but I wasn’t involved in it then. When I was diagnosed I was referred through to the Morecambe Bay Community Services heart team and they gave me a BHF tome which was a bit daunting, A4 ring bound and in sections. I read it through from start to finish several times and I read it now and refer to it. There’s so much brilliant information in that book.”
One reminder boosted her confidence no end: “It says even the best athletes get short of breath.”
The key, she learned, was to get gradually fitter - which is a challenge she has concentrated on since her diagnosis in February 2018.
The 65 year old had been put on a 24 hour heart monitor and had had various tests when the doctor’s surgery rang to say the doctor needed to see her. She said: “I thought something’s up here. ..but they were very positive because it’s all helping (you) to live with what you’ve got.”
She believes her heart failure can be in part attributed to heredity - her father died of heart failure and her brother was recently diagnosed with a heart problem. When diagnosed with an enlarged left ventricle the efficiency reading for her heart was just 24 per cent. She added: “I haven’t been helped by the fact I was a heavy drinker. I drank an awful lot of cider. I was drinking almost up to 70 units in one week - four to six cans of Strongbow day. “
She admits she was “completely addicted” and had a found the drink helped her cope as she nursed her sick husband John who died in 2009.
She had also found her job as an accountant stressful
“My doctor said you’re going to have to stop drinking and I said fair enough. He said why don’t you put the money away ....It was £22 a week.”
Now 9 stone 12 pounds, Lesley watches her diet rigorously and has lost three stone. For six months she went completely dry and now has only the odd drink. Since her recent retirement she had worked at a local Booths supermarket in Carnforth but that had to stop too, as she concentrated on rebuilding her health.
“My whole life changed. But I do do a little bit of gentle line dancing and I do Tai Chi which is really brilliant. I can manage (to walk) two miles in one go which will take me an hour - I’d doing that three times a day. The weight loss has helped. I’ve restricted myself to 1200 calories and five per cent fat.”
Initially she admits the diagnosis depressed her: “I thought I was going to die. I wasn’t sleeping well. I had a lot of fluid on my chest. I was waking up and couldn’t breathe in the night. My oldest friend is a school friend. I phoned her and told her and she came to stay with me with her dog. We’ve been friends now for just short of 60 years. She came and held my hand literally and metaphorically and when I couldn’t sleep she would talk to me. When I did she would keep her eye on me and check I was all right. For the first few weeks I didn’t think I would wake up every morning...that’s where the BHF literature comes in.This isn’t a death sentence. You can live for another 20/30 years.”
To say thank you to the charity for its support and inspired by the BHF magazine which was promoting a “Just Walk” campaign she decided to do her own fund-raiser: “My most favourite place is Tarn Hows, Coniston. (pictured left) I used to go and walk round it and I thought I want to go there again...I’m going to walk round it three times on Sunday, June 2 at 11am, 1pm and 3pm - an hour to go round and an hour to rest.”
With the support of two national supermarket chains she is planning to make up picnic bags for supporters and has set up a Just Giving page for sponsorship. She said :“We can have a picnic and people can join in the Just Walk Picnic."
There will also be BHF leaflets and pedometers on her stand and she stresses the walk is great for children because it is just 1.8 miles a circuit. The path is also accessible to mobility scooters. Lesley added: "I want people to sponsor me through my Just Giving page. I want other people to join me who might want to get sponsored.”
In the long term she hopes to make her Tarn Hows picnic Just Walk event an annual event.
Asked for her top tips after her health journey she said: “Don’t panic is the first one, then just take one day at a time because 12 months ago I wouldn’t have believed what I’m capable of.I’m probably fitter than I was before. I’ve probably got a better life expectancy than I had before. I cook everything from scratch and I do get at least five a day. Now I feel like I can conquer the world, but I just have to be sensible ... pace myself.”
Picnic Places: Pre-register on 07775 696727, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/lesley-curley-heartfelt? £2.50 is payable via JustGiving or on the day.