Skip to main content

A tale of triumph over heart disease

Wellingtonian Jeff McEwan is living life to its fullest, though just four years ago he was on the operating table receiving life-saving surgery for blockages in his arteries.

In 2019 Jeff was living a normal life, albeit with relatively long working hours and a great deal of stress from his job.

“I was probably a bit overworked,” he admits. “I used to play football to a really high level and I was always super fit and going for runs and hiking up mountains, but one day that all changed.”

The turning point in Jeff's life came in October 2019 when he faced two heart attacks. The first incident unfolded during a particularly demanding workday, immersed in a photography shoot. 

"I was pushing myself too hard, and it caught up with me," Jeff recalls, highlighting the probable contributing factors. “I didn’t have any history of heart disease in the family and to be honest I didn’t really know what was going on at first.”

Jeff went to lie down and tried to control his breathing but he was experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack.

“My hands were shaking and I was very light-headed,” he says. “But I just put it down to low-blood sugar and tried to brush it off.”

The second heart attack struck at night while Jeff was asleep, leaving him with a sense of disquiet upon waking. 

"I woke up feeling weird the next morning and knew I had to do something," he recounts. Jeff's vigilance led him to seek medical attention. He went to his doctor and was advised to take an electrocardiograph (ECG) and a blood test. The latter revealed elevated troponin levels, a clear indicator of heart muscle damage.

“My coronary arteries were obstructed by plaque buildup, and it was actually really serious, which surprised me in a way as I thought I was indestructible.”

Jeff’s situation was critical and could have had dire consequences if left untreated. Within a matter of days he was undergoing an angioplasty operation to have stents inserted into his arteries.

"It was a close call," Jeff remembers as he describes the procedure, which restored unobstructed blood flow to his heart. “At one point in the middle of the night I technically died for around ten seconds as my heart stopped. They had to restart my heart and for my family watching it was a really scary experience.”

Jeff now dedicates his energy and enthusiasm to his work with the Heart Foundation, using his story as a source of motivation for others. 

"I want to inspire others to take care of their hearts," he says. “I want my mates to know that this could happen to them or someone they know and love. If they know about it, they can hopefully take steps to prevent it from happening in the future.

“I now live my life at a much slower pace than I used to,” he says. “I still have a busy job and I try to keep fit but I definitely avoid putting too much stress and strain on my body and mind.”

Jeff knows all too well that heart disease is a potential threat that knows no boundaries of age, fitness or lifestyle. 

"I want to tell people that heart problems don't care about your age or how healthy you look. They can surprise you," he emphasises. "I’ve been given another shot at life and I want to make the most of it. Part of that is sharing my story and you never know who you might talk to and end up helping."

Heart disease can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Donate now to support life-saving heart research.

Donate now