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CEO of Croí heart and stroke charity calls it a day!

The head of the Galway-based heart and stroke charity, Croí, is stepping down from his role after 30 years.

Neil Johnson will be replaced as Chief Executive Officer by Mark O’Donnell, who was appointed Chief Operations Officer and Head of Foundation in January 2022.

Mr Johnson, who made the announcement in a newsletter to supporters of the charity, said rather than retiring, he is moving to work in the Galway-based Global Health Hub, an umbrella group for international heart patient advocacy organisations.

He will also work part-time in a supporting role to oversee a major new community health project on the site of Croí in Newcastle near University Hospital Galway.

Due to be officially announced next week, Croí will build a new 250 square metre Stroke Hub onto the current building, for which planning permission has been granted. There is already a stroke day programme in place to provide stroke survivors with supports for their recovery and rehabilitation.

The charity aims to build on the existing stroke support service for survivors post-hospital discharge, helping them to live within their communities, promoting independent living after a stroke and working to eliminate isolation for survivors and their carers.

Once fully operational, there will be a minibus on the road to transport stroke patients into the hub from across County Galway.  The mobile health service will provide screening and public education centres which can be deployed to communities.

Reflecting on his long tenure at Croí, Mr Johnson pointed to its many milestone achievements – the equipping of all ambulances with defibrillators, the launch of community public access defibrillators, the training of community first responders and the introduction of the first mobile coronary care unit – the Croí Cardiac Ambulance.

Hospital projects supported by Croí include the provision of diagnostic equipment, angiography facilities, a coronary care unit and bringing cardiac surgery west of the Shannon. The charity has been pivotal in the development of cardiac rehabilitation, establishing a chest pain clinic and supporting both community and hospital cardiac diagnostics.

“Croí has impacted the lives of thousands either through heart health awareness, education, training, early detection or patient and carer support and advocacy. Many Croí initiatives have literally saved lives. Over the last 15 years, Croí shifted focus to prevention and working in the community and this led to the opening of Croí House which is the only heart and stroke centre of its kind in Ireland and is recognised by the European Society of Cardiology as a centre of excellence in cardiovascular disease prevention.

“From here we established the National Institute for Prevention and Cardiovascular Health (NIPC) which is now an independent medical research and education institute leading national and international research as well as delivering a programme of healthcare professional training and education courses in prevention and lifestyle medicine.”

The NIPC has been instrumental in supporting the development of a portfolio of postgraduate taught MSc programmes in preventive medicine and cardiovascular health. Croí has broadened its scope to include stroke. Up to now the primary focus has been on stroke prevention but it has been expanding to rehabilitation after hospital discharge.

“Over the years, thanks to unbelievable voluntary community effort, Croí raised and invested millions of euro as the catalyst for so many important infrastructural and service developments across the region.

He said the change in leadership at Croí has been carefully planned. Mr O’Donnell, a native of Tipperary who has lived in Galway for over 30 years, has worked at senior level in the public service within city, county and regional government organisations and has academic qualifications in law, finance, management and corporate governance.

“Mark and I have worked very well together for almost two years now and I know he will bring a fresh perspective and take on his new role with vigour. I wish him every success as he continues our mission to tackle the burden of heart disease and stroke,” remarked Mr Johnson.

He paid warm tributes to staff, donors, sponsors, volunteers as well as several boards of directors, many of them serving for the maximum two terms, offering their time and expertise in a voluntary capacity.

“When I joined Croí all those years ago I could never have imagined what an incredible journey it was going to be.”

His last day in the job will be December 31.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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