North West volunteers have their fingers on the pulse of health technology

A team of volunteers has been recruited to help spot friends and relatives at risk of a stroke.

The AF Ambassadors have been signed up by the Innovation Agency, the Academic Health Science Network for the North West Coast, to identify people who may have atrial fibrillation (AF) – an irregular heart rate which can lead to a life-threatening stroke.

One in five strokes is caused by AF and the North West has one of the highest AF related stroke rates in the UK. Each stroke costs the NHS and social care services around £24,000 in the first year alone.

The Innovation Agency is spreading the use of AliveCor Kardia devices – portable Electrocardiogram (ECG) monitors which attach to the back of a mobile smartphone and display a heart rate reading on an app.

AliveCor’s technology captures the heart rate of the user in just 30 seconds and shows an alert if the user’s heart rate is outside the normal range.

When this happens, the Ambassador will advise the person to visit their GP as soon as possible and will email an ECG trace to the user’s doctor or send it to the person themselves so they can show it to a healthcare professional.

Kim Hughes, a stroke survivor from Walton, is one of the first AF Ambassadors. She said:

“A quarter of people who have a stroke are under 65 and I was just 33 when I had mine. I didn’t even realise I’d had a stroke. I just lost all the feeling down one side. I was trying to do my daughter’s hair and I couldn’t move my arms properly then afterwards I kept getting migraines and was sleeping all the time.”

Following a brain scan at The Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Kim was shocked to discover that she’d had a stroke. “I thought strokes only happened to older people – I was petrified.” she said.

It has been 11 years since Kim had her stroke and she is living proof that life can be good again. She said: “The first three years were really hard but I would like to reassure survivors that there is life after stroke. Keeping positive helps, as well as setting yourself small goals each day.”

Kim keeps herself busy volunteering for The Brain Charity at The Walton Centre and is enjoying her new role as an AF Ambassador.

“I want to help prevent strokes because I know the damage they can cause to the victims and their families. I’m going to be testing people for AF at the Disability Awareness Day in Warrington this weekend.”

Scott Smith, community development manager for the Stroke Association, has also become an AF ambassador. He said: “AF is a contributing factor in up to one in five strokes in the UK and it is estimated there could be another half a million people in the UK with undiagnosed AF.

“Prevention of strokes is one of our aims so we’re delighted to be working with the Innovation Agency. If using the app can prevent one person having a stroke then it’s worth it every time.”

Debbie Parkinson, Patient and Public Involvement Lead for the Innovation Agency said: “Our new AF Ambassadors will help to spread the word about AF and hopefully raise awareness in their communities and reduce the incidence of strokes.

“We have tasked them to test 50 people each on their Kardia Mobile. It’s a brilliant innovation and very easy to use.”

The Innovation Agency is recruiting more AF Ambassadors and anyone who would like to get involved should call Debbie on 01772 520250 or email debbie.parkinson@innovationagencynwc.nhs.uk.

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