Donal Nugent, journalist

Anyone affected by a serious heart condition will recognise a truth that may pass the rest of us by. ‘People often think, if you’ve had a stroke, that it’s all about your physical recovery. In fact, it’s a deeply traumatic experience that doesn’t end when you are discharged from hospital.’ So says Helen Redmond FCCA, director of finance and support services at the Irish Heart Foundation.

For those who find themselves at this crossroads, the charity is an obvious port of call for advice and information. Even more valuable, however, are its support services. The Stroke Connect Service (SCS), its flagship offering, provides up to eight weeks of phone and online assistance to newly discharged stroke patients. Like many recent healthcare innovations, it ultimately owes much to pandemic restrictions.

‘One of the great things about providing supports remotely is we can now reach a lot more people’

‘Covid-19 had a huge impact on us,’ Redmond says. ‘All our existing services effectively stopped overnight. We had no choice but to take a leap into the digital world and move our support services online so we could continue to support those who needed us. One of the great things about providing supports remotely is that we can reach a lot more people and this remote offering continues today alongside our in-person supports.’


The Irish Heart Foundation receives minimal direct government funding, a situation that, Redmond says, makes it more dependent on fundraising but also gives it the ‘freedom to hit hard’ in advocacy and awareness campaigns.

‘Sadly, there are over 9,000 deaths a year from cardiovascular disease in Ireland. A lot of people donate because of the experience they’ve had in their family and the gap the Irish Heart Foundation helped to fill.’

Of greatest concern is the issue of childhood obesity and the role played by the food and advertising industry

The charity’s uncompromising approach to advocacy and awareness is no less valuable and constantly evolving. It has recently begun to stress the connection between climate change and heart health, arguing that reducing the intake of excessive red meat and ultra-processed foods can not only improve our health but also lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Of greatest concern for Redmond, however, is the issue of childhood obesity and the role played by the food and advertising industry. ‘Junk food is so accessible and so cheap, and many parents have no idea how targeted their children are by advertisers online.’

The consequences of this virtual onslaught are very real. ‘We are seeing high blood pressure in children of a young age. Our activities aren’t about blaming parents, who are incredibly busy trying to juggle so many things. It’s a question for society and regulators.’

She says recent Irish Heart Foundation campaigns have generated dividends here. ‘We got a change in the sugar tax rules and a ban on the advertising of junk food at certain times of the day. However, the fight is constant, and social media is a whole new frontline.’

‘To be surrounded by people who challenge you is extremely important in your career’


Before joining the charity, Redmond enjoyed a successful spell in the corporate world, centred on 16 years with IBM in a variety of roles including European resource manager. ‘One of the great things about the company was that you were able to change roles quite easily, meaning I could move from finance to operational positions,’ she says.

‘I had some great managers and worked on really interesting projects. To be surrounded by people who challenge you is extremely important in your career – you can achieve a lot more. But I also learned that you have to give something back.’

The move to the Irish Heart Foundation helped her do just that but it also came after personal tragedy. ‘My eldest sister was my best friend. We did everything together. Tragically, she passed away in 2014. I never really knew what grief was until that happened and I became acutely aware of how precious life is,’ she says.

Taking two years out, Redmond travelled widely and fulfilled some long-held ambitions, such as completing the Ballymaloe cookery course. A random phone call from a recruiter in 2018 set her on her new path – one that she admits she was initially lukewarm on. ‘I was aware, like everyone else, of the scandals affecting the charity sector in Ireland. But I also thought, why not go for the interview and hear them out?’

Prepping for the interview, she felt an immediate connection. ‘My dad had a stroke and I knew the effect it had on him, so the work the Irish Heart Foundation did just resonated immediately with me. I was taken aback by the scale and the breadth of it.’

‘I now see that working for an NGO is a bit of a vocation’

Redmond welcomes the overhaul in governance in the charity sector in recent years. ‘It’s sometimes hard to explain to people that we have to use some of the money raised on administration and governance, but I believe it’s both needed and appropriate,’ she says.

In her downtime, Redmond is an enthusiastic hillwalker and currently treasurer of the Glenwalk Hillwalking Club. She is also a recent convert to bridge, a game she says ‘takes a couple of years to master but which has a great social aspect to it’.

She traces her membership of ACCA to dropping out of third-level education soon after the Leaving Certificate. ‘I realised I wanted to be out in the world of work, and quickly saw ACCA was the right choice, for its flexibility and as a qualification with worldwide recognition.’

It is an investment that has arguably proved its value twice for Redmond – in both a successful corporate career and an environment that has brought an entirely different level of satisfaction. ‘I feel very fortunate to work with people who are so passionate and determined. I now see that working for an NGO is a bit of a vocation. You have to really care about the people you’re fighting for.’

Heart health

Number of people who die from heart disease and stroke annually in Ireland

1 in 20
Of this generation’s children will die prematurely due to overweight and obesity

Percentage of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke that are preventable, according to the Irish Heart Foundation

Number of volunteers who provide Irish Heart Foundation support services

Year the Irish Heart Foundation founded