A mission to improve Scotland's hearts

In 2016 VisitScotland Business Events launched an exciting new campaign targeting the MICE market: Legends. This campaign showcases the sector strengths in Scotland from bio-engineering, to digital technology, life sciences, space and engineering. As part of the campaign we ran a competition to discover the Young Legends of tomorrow, to meet those young people in Scotland who are working on incredible new ideas that will strengthen our advanced sectors, and who may just have the next idea that can become a Legend. In this blog we meet Hannah Costello, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh who is on a mission to improve Scotland’s hearts.

By Hannah Costello, PhD Student and British Heart Foundation out-reach volunteer.

My interest in cardiovascular disease (CVD) began after my uncle suffered a fatal heart attack, giving me a personal understanding of the devastating impact on families of heart disease. It was a difficult time for me and for all my family. Speaking to friends made me realise most people have been, or know someone who has been, affected by CVD in some way. These early unforgettable impressions have driven me to contribute to the latest advances in new treatments for preventing heart attacks. I applied for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) PhD programme in several universities and I was fortunate to be offered a place at the University of Edinburgh. My PhD has allowed me to participate in cutting-edge research, not only in the cardiovascular field, but also other areas vital to major issues facing society today

The BHF Outreach programme complements my PhD research by contributing to the “bigger picture” of public health in Scotland: I educate children about heart health and safety, empowering them to make positive life choices and inspiring the next generation of scientists. The programme integrates into the school curriculum and will improve the health of the nation by instilling the importance of healthy choices. I also communicate the impact of research to enthuse school pupils about science careers, and include CPR training, as every minute without CPR following a heart attack reduces survival rates by 10%. I volunteer a lot of my time to the BHF, not only with the school programme, but also as a fundraiser and a youth and school speaker.

The BHF schools outreach programme has already reached 8 schools (4 primary and 4 secondary) in Edinburgh. Following the success of the programme I have now trained a further 15 PhD students, enabling us to broaden our reach to schools and youth groups across Scotland. PhD students are now connected with groups in Glasgow, Dundee and St Andrew’s, and we are in a position roll out to even more communities.  

We are working hard with the BHF to teach as many school pupils CPR as possible. The BHF have successfully campaigned to get all secondary schools in Scotland to teach CPR to their students. However, the programme not only teaches secondary school pupils CPR, but we are also teaching primary schools pupils CPR, so I hope in future there will be plans in place to get every primary school to teach CPR to their students, as well as every Secondary School. The impact of having this programme is very important. If young people take their heart health more seriously and are better educated form a young age, we hope they will make better, more informed choices as adults. This will improve Scotland’s heart health overall, reducing the pressures of CVD on the NHS, and ensuring less people have to experience the loss of relatives or the effects of a CVD episode. CPR is vital in saving lives immediately after a heart attack, the more people, including students, who can administer CPR, the more people can be saved.

For this work I was nominated for a BHF heart hero award that I was lucky enough to win. This publicity raised awareness of the work of the BHF and their out-reach programmes, and this attracted businesses to support the campaign and to raise money for us. Recruitment agency Eden Scott pledged to donate £1 for every CV submitted to them in January, raising an incredible £1000 for the BHF.

This programme all began because of an idea I had, and I was lucky enough to have the support from the BHF to take it forwards and make it a reality. The best advice I can give to anyone else with an idea, who might not be sure how to make it happen, is to speak to people about your idea. If people don’t seem interested, don’t get disheartened. If you believe in the idea, keep trying to make it happen!

With thanks to Hannah Costello and the British Heart Foundation.


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