Stories from Scotland's survivors 08 April 2021 The pandemic has been incredibly tough on us all, but it has been particularly hard for people living with chest, heart and stroke conditions. We spoke to three survivors about how lockdown has affected them. Our amazing support workers and nurses have been working hard throughout the past year to make sure people like Agnes, Douglas and John get the support they really need during these difficult times. Inspired by online support group Diagnosed with bronchiectasis when she was just 22 years old, Agnes Laidlaw has successfully managed her condition for more than 40 years. But the mum of two daughters and three stepsons admits the last year of lockdown has been the most challenging of her life. Lockdown restrictions also mean her favourite way to socialise, through the Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland Cheerful Chesters support group, has been put on hold, but she’s found a great alternative in the charity’s exercise and social group on Zoom. Agnes, 65, of Inverness, says: “Lockdown has changed my life completely. I have been living inside my house for close to a year now because I’ve been shielding. I just can’t take any chances of ending up in hospital. “I have seen my girls in the garden and that’s meant everything to me, but we haven’t been able to hug or see the grandchildren. It’s been very hard indeed.” “When I’ve felt a bit fed up, the Zoom groups cheer me up and keep me active, too.” Agnes has been going to Cheerful Chesters for almost six years. She says: “I miss the group. We do exercises, then we have a good chat and a cup of tea. We all have a chest condition, so we understand each other and what we’re all going through. But that’s all stopped because of lockdown. I really miss my social life. “Then I found out about the Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland exercise and social group on Zoom, and I’ve really enjoyed going to those each week. “When I’ve felt a bit fed up, the Zoom groups cheer me up and keep me active, too. I feel more motivated every week I go.” Bronchiectasis is a long-term condition affecting the airways of the lungs and making them more at risk of infection. Agnes must clear phlegm from her lungs daily, and she uses a nebuliser with antibiotics to prevent infections. Right now she’s focused on the end of lockdown and being able to hug her family again. Agnes says: “That is what is keeping me going.” The right people on the end of the phone Hospitalised after a stroke last March, Douglas Ramsay couldn’t wait to get home. Unfortunately, within days of discharging himself, he realised he had contracted Covid-19 during his hospital stay. Desperate not to go back into hospital, Douglas remained at home where wife Allison nursed him through the worst of the virus. But still battling the effects of the stroke on his mobility, Douglas felt lost and alone until he called the Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland Advice Line and was put in touch with Sarah. Douglas, 60, of Elderslie in Renfrewshire, says: “I had so many questions about my stroke and that’s how I found Sarah. She answered all my questions and gave me really good advice. She knew I needed help and she called me every week to check how I was getting on. “At first, I was asking about medical stuff, but actually what I found was that social interaction was just as important. I had issues picking up my prescriptions when I first got home and Sarah sorted all of that for me, too. “We struggled to get our food shopping and Sarah managed to arrange that by finding us a Kindness Volunteer called Graham. Graham has been amazing, and he has done so much for us. “I don’t know how we would have coped without them.” Douglas has had to retire from his job as a radiographer because of ill health. And he admits he has struggled to deal with the effects of the stroke and Covid-19. “I don’t know how we would have coped without them.” He says: “It felt like the end of the world. But with Sarah’s help, I managed to ground myself. And I know if I ever need her help, she will be there for me. “She helped me realise my life isn’t over. Anyone else who has had Covid-19 or a stroke should get help from Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland like I did. My ultimate goal is to walk again, get outside, and hopefully drive again at some point too. “Hopefully, I will walk again and I have the drive to keep going. But I know if it doesn’t happen, I will be fine and I can still live my life. Sarah has helped me realise there’s life after stroke. You’ve got the right people on the end of the phone.” John didn't realise he'd had a heart attack Lorry driver John Gawler pulled into a layby when he felt a bit under the weather during a delivery run but soon felt well enough to drive on. A routine health check at work noted irregular blood pressure, and John had three stents fitted to his heart valve. But it was only in January 2021 – a full year later – that his GP told John what had happened to him was actually a heart attack. John, 62, who lives in Inverness, says: “I thought a heart attack would feel like a sledgehammer hitting your chest – where the pain is so great that you clutch your chest and hit the ground. “But I just felt hot and sweaty for a few minutes and that was it. I was in complete shock after that. I didn’t realise you could have a heart attack and not even realise it. That’s one of the reasons why I want to share what happened to me in case it can help other people.” John lives on his own and is used to the solitary life of the long-distance lorry driver. But signed off work after the heart op, he found himself overwhelmed. “Being a lorry driver can be a lonely life anyway, so I’m used to not talking to anyone on some days. But it’s still felt quite hard. “I go out for walks when things get tough or I start feeling stuck. I even took a four mile detour to post a letter, just to get out and keep busy!” “I know I can always call Becky if I have any questions about my health or anything at all.” He recalls: “At first when someone told me about Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, I said I didn’t want to know. But then a nurse called Becky phoned me and she was just great. “Becky helped me with everything, like giving me advice on how I could still eat the foods I liked. “I know I can always call Becky if I have any questions about my health or anything at all. I know how much that must mean to others, too. Like me, they might be living alone and so having a person there they can trust can make all the difference.” Feeling inspired by these amazing tales? If you have a chest, heart or stroke condition (or are supporting a friend or family member) and would like to share your story, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.