Pioneering nurse and heart failure specialist

Born: May 21, 1955;

Died: November 24, 2018

GLASGOW-born Lynda Blue, who has died aged 63, was a pioneering nurse who dedicated her life and career to ensuring that patients suffering from heart failure had the best possible quality of life. It was she who initiated the idea of specially-trained Heart Failure Nurses (HFN), a concept since taken up by hospitals around the world, to ensure patients receive proper care to extend their lives. She was latterly based at the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust just across the river Thames from the Houses of Parliament.

Heart failure, most common in older people, is when the heart cannot pump blood around the body properly but keeps working. It is not usually curable but thanks to research made by doctors and nurses like Mrs Blue, and her specialist care plan, its symptoms can be controlled for many years and patients’ lives improved. She is considered the UK national founder and catalyst for nurse-led heart failure services worldwide and was a founding member of the Oxfordshire-based British Society for Heart Failure (BSH).

At the time of her death, Mrs Blue was Healthcare Innovation Programme Manager for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and she was author or co-author of countless highly-respected papers on heart failure treatment. She had also played a key role in instituting the Scottish Heart Failure Hub, a Scottish government initiative to improve the care of heart failure patients around Scotland. Before her death, she had been hoping to come back to Scotland as co-ordinator of the Hub.

Her greatest legacy, colleagues say, was to introduce multidisciplinary heart failure teams, including a cardiologist, a heart failure specialist nurse, a heart failure pharmacist, a physiotherapist and a dietician to ensure that patients would be helped by a single team which, in turn, would give advice to the patients’ GPs. She also helped introduce clinical psychological back-up for patients, who often suffer from depression. In particular, she played a pivotal role in implementing what she called “a randomised controlled trial of specialist nurse intervention in heart failure patients.” She proved that such nursing could reduce hospital re-admissions, cut NHS costs and yet improve the quality of life for patients with chronic heart failure.

She had previously been the BHF’s regional service department manager for Scotland and Northern Ireland and had designed, established and managed the Glasgow Heart Failure Nurse Service. She was a Nurse Fellow of the European Society of Cardiology, was asked to make presentations at many international conferences and developed a UK-wide heart failure nurse training programme in conjunction with the BHF and Glasgow Caledonian University where she had gained a BSc in Health Studies when she was 40.

Lynda Mary Jane MacGregor was born in Glasgow on May 21, 1955, and brought up in East Kilbride where she attended Duncanrig Secondary School. Her father and his ancestors were MacGregors from the village of Gartmore - Rob Roy MacGregor country – in what is now the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. Her mother Betty (Adams) was from Dumfriesshire.

Lynda’s dad Alastair MacGregor had moved from Gartmore to East Kilbride to work as an engineer for the aerospace giant Rolls-Royce but the family maintained close links with Gartmore and Lynda spent much of her early life visiting her grandparents there. She considered the Trossachs her “spiritual home.”

She began her career in 1973 as a student nurse at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, eventually working in midwifery, cardio-thoracic nursing and research. It was as a researcher that she found her true calling, embarking on ground-breaking specialist nurse intervention in heart failure, a breakthrough which led to the specialist heart failure nurse movement around the world. On December 29, 1980, she married Donnie Blue, who spent most of his career as director of health and safety at Strathclyde University.

In her rare free time, Lynda Blue maintained an interest passed on by her father – the study of Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, a Scottish writer, politician, journalist and adventurer, as well as the first president of the Scottish National Party (SNP). She also loved travelling to Spain, either visiting friends in Barcelona and the Catalonian seaside town of Cadaqués or her son Robbie who is an IT recruitment consultant in Madrid. Her daughter Natalie, a nutritionist, owns a fruit juice and health food business called All About Juice in Glasgow.

Despite the pressures of her career, Lynda Blue played a huge role in caring for her husband Donnie after he retired in 2002 due to head and neck cancer. “Lynda exuded humility, kindness, gentleness and was driven by a real passion for high-quality patient care and education,” one colleague said. “One of her finest attributes was her down to earth approach and ability to value and inspire almost everyone she met. She had the ability to see in others what they could not always see for themselves.

“She was also a damn good laugh. Those of us who knew her well soon realised the consequence of her mischievous behaviour, facial expressions and emojis not to mention the hour-long telephone chats which often began with “I’ll just be a minute”. Some of our loveliest memories of Lynda will be of her ‘snorting with laughter’ and tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Lynda will be remembered as a remarkable individual with incomparable leadership and personal qualities. Someone who emanated kindness, friendship, compassion, humour, wisdom, exceptional advocacy and visionary leadership and who always had a humble demeanour regardless of her professional importance. Lynda, you will always be our heart failure nurse guru.”

Just two months before she died, Mrs Blue was involved in a campaign called Heart Failure Sucks, during which she and fellow nurses sucked on lemons for photographers. At that time, she blogged: “Heart failure is a condition which can cause a greater reduction in quality of life than almost any other medical condition. Symptoms include (but are not limited to) shortness of breath, weakness, coughing, difficulty concentrating, and nausea. However, with appropriate treatment, survival rates and quality of life for patients can dramatically improve.”

Lynda Blue died in the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank after heart surgery which led to multi-organ failure. She is survived by her husband Donnie, her son Robbie, her daughter Natalie and Natalie’s six-month-old twins Blake and Mila.