Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Karen's Heart 2 Heart is a life-saver

Surviving a heart attack is one thing, making sure you don’t have another is just as important, writes Brian Byrne. And helping people do that is the career choice of Karen Cradock of Heart 2 Heart Cardiac Physiotherapy.

Located at Kilcullen Business Campus at Knockbounce, and with weekly clinics in Dublin and at Killashee Leisure Centre in Naas, Karen’s expertise is underpinned by many years of clinical and hospital experience, both in Ireland and while working in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

One of the key elements in recovering from heart attack is exercise. But, given that the most important organ in the body will have suffered a pretty massive trauma, that exercise needs to be very carefully monitored and managed as part of an overall programme of what’s known as ‘cardiac rehab’.

“In a way, it’s like training an Olympic athlete,” Karen says. “To a person in cardiac rehab, the challenges can be similar.”

Karen always had an interest in Life Sciences and when she left school, physiotherapy attracted her as a possible career. She graduated from UCD in 1995 as a chartered physiotherapist, then went to the UK for further studies, where she became specifically interested in cardiac rehab. Over some four years she developed this interest further, working in Australia and New Zealand before coming back to Ireland in 2001.

“At that time, Mary Harney as Minister for Health had opened up opportunities in the field in Ireland and I went to work in St Vincent’s University Hospital, where I spent 13 years. The hospital environment is superb, and you work with great teams and you can learn a lot.”

Karen completed a research masters in 2006 on the role of exercise in patients with heart failure, and she has been a pioneer in setting up heart failure rehabilitation services in Ireland. But in recent years the moratorium on recruitment to the health service resulted in shortages in many disciplines, including the specialist physiotherapy which Karen does. When that meant she had to take on other work within the system to buoy it up, she finally decided it might be time to make a change.

“I had already made one change by moving back down to Naas from Dublin to live, so when the commuting became more difficult over the last couple years, I figured it might be a good time to move out of the public system.”

By then, Karen had chaired a subgroup from the Irish Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation that explored cardiac rehabilitation in Ireland and the training needs. She has helped to develop training courses for people going into her field and she works with colleagues from the UK delivering training programmes. She is also President of the Irish Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation, and last year was awarded Specialist Membership of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists in Ireland in recognition of her work in cardiac rehabilitation.

The Heart 2 Heart operation in Kilcullen is a compact but high-tech clinic where Karen can assess clients and develop bespoke programmes for each. While many of her clients might be referred to her by their GPs, the clinic is open to individuals to attend, but in such cases she also will work closely with the client’s medical professionals. “Generally the programmes need to be done as part of a team.”

In her cardiac rehab work, her clients would range right across the age spectrum from teenagers to people in their 80s. Karen also works with an osteoporosis group in UCD and she has in addition helped some cancer survivors.

Moving out on her own has been a challenge, but coming from a business family — her father is an engineer who has worked in Africa as well as several parts of Ireland — she is aware of the advantages and the downsides. “You do miss the institutionalisation and the support network that you have in a hospital, so I’m just trying to build that in the community now … and the local doctors are really great.”

Bringing this kind of service to the community is relatively new. Previously, cardiac rehab programmes were only based in hospitals, but now Karen sees an expansion of interest across the country in providing the service in local areas. When you have essentially been one of the pioneers in a field, that has to bring its own satisfaction.