A woman who was told she would need open heart surgery aged 20 is campaigning to raise awareness of heart disease in young people.
Frustrated by a lack of education and support surrounding the disease, Becky Morgans, from Colwyn Bay, Conwy county, has set up a social media campaign called Beating Hearts.
It comes as charity Welsh Hearts revealed it has screened more than 1,400 16-35 year olds over the last year, with one session at the Principality Stadium in May leading to 32 referrals to treatment.
Here, she tells her story:
I was 20. Walking up the stairs I would get so out of breath. I went to the doctor, thinking I had a chest infection.
She thought maybe I’d punctured a lung so she sent me to the local hospital and I had a chest X-ray. It was the doctor there before I got discharged, listening in his stethoscope, who heard a heart murmur.
I thought, “what’s a heart murmur?” I was so naive at 20 years old. I thought anything heart related was just a heart attack.
I always thought, because I’ve only ever lived in my body, that feeling my heart beat was normal, but it wasn’t. He explained that he thought my heart was leaking.
They diagnosed me and told me that I would have to have open heart surgery to fix it.
I had surgery in January 2014 – an aortic valve replacement [her damaged valve was replaced with a tissue valve from a pig’s heart].
It [her aorta] was twice the size and it could have ruptured. I could have died if it was left.
I was terrified before. I didn’t know what the process was going to be. It made me feel very alone and isolated.
I went on Google to try and find other people my age who had gone through it or were going through it because I wanted to talk to them.
I thought, “I can’t be the only 21-year-old who is about to have open heart surgery”. I set up Beating Hearts on social media and so many people reached out.
I didn’t want it to be a cry for help, I didn’t want sympathy. I wanted it to help other people.
I think there needs to be more help, more understanding. Maybe a nurse who gives you their number if you are confused, or want to know more about your condition, your surgery, your recovery. Or if you’re feeling like your head can’t take it.
In February I tried to get some support, to speak to a counsellor. I had to try three different websites, whereas back when I was 20 I would have just given up and thought there was no help.
Advertising needs to be relatable, to not just show children and then skip to retirement age – 18 to 35-year-olds who use social media need to know “I’m not the only one who’s going through that”.
Beating Hearts really went big on 27 April 2016 because there was a “Scars are Beautiful” campaign. I did my first ever picture showing my scar because I was finally happy and confident with it.
I struggled having an eight-inch scar down my chest but it’s only a scar, it doesn’t make me who I am.
Rebecca Ferguson tweeted asking people why music is an inspiration to them, and I replied because music helped me. She messaged me asking if I would feature in her recent music video “Superwoman”.
I had one girl message me who was 14 years old who gets bullied in school. She said my posts made her realise that her life wasn’t that bad, and it made her feel better about her bullies. It made me cry.
I met a lady called Kerry, who has had two open heart surgeries, who told me her daughter was doing a project on me in school. It makes me realise what I’m doing is worth it and I should continue doing it.
In my eyes, if I can help one person it would be worth it.
I find it so much easier speaking to people online who have been through that, because I know they will have been through the same, so I open up a lot more.
When I speak to family and friends I feel like I have to hold back on what I say about my feelings or how a certain situation made me feel mentally.
I did my first speaking event with Chris Roberts, co-founder of the North Wales Dragons football team.
Chris messaged me and said: “I didn’t realise you were from north Wales, I’ve been following you a while.”
He had a heart attack, he was following me because of my heart journey and he asked if we could meet up because he was only down the road.
I’d never met the guy but because he has had a heart operation it was so easy to talk to him. We said it was like a counselling session.
This year’s been quite tough, back in February my ECG results [a test which measures the electrical activity of your heart] showed increased gradient. I know I have to have another operation in the future.
I will have to have a mechanical valve. My aorta will need to be changed to a plastic tube. That’s always on your mind.
Every time you go to hospital changes could be happening, I could need the second operation already.
But it doesn’t control my life, it’s just part of my life.