‘Anything is possible – even with heart disease’
Published: 11 January 2016
As a survivor of heart disease, Brian Halton hopes his booklet will help and inspire others with heart conditions to keep living a full life while taking good care of themselves.
Brian can safely claim to have nine lives.
The 74-year-old has survived eight heart attacks since 1983, with the help of major lifestyle changes as well as medical treatment.
And now, he has written a booklet about living with heart disease. Called ‘A Cat of Nine Lives’, it’s a personal account of his experiences that Brian hopes will encourage others with heart disease to continue living full and meaningful lives.
“I have no complaints. I have a strong relationship with my wife, our family and friends. My professional life has been full and profitable. Despite living with heart disease for so long, I continue to enjoy a full, enriching and rewarding life,” he says.
Brian was 42 years old when he had his first heart attack. Although he was a smoker at the time, he was otherwise fit and was surprised to find himself in hospital.
“I did have a family history of heart disease but took little heed of it. In those days it was not emphasised as it is now.”
After his first heart attack, Brian quickly made the lifestyle changes advised by his doctors. As well as quitting smoking, he also made positive changes to his diet and fluid intake, and gradually built up his level of exercise as he recovered.
He then made the difficult decision to have coronary artery bypass graft surgery – where a vein from elsewhere in the body is grafted around a blockage or narrowing of the artery, to create a new passage for blood to flow to the heart.
At the time, the survival rate of the surgery was around 50%, and his father had died following similar surgery years earlier.
But Brian and his wife Margaret, who live in Wellington, decided surgery was the best option. The procedure was a success, and for almost 17 years Brian had no further heart problems.
But during a summer holiday in Napier in 2000, Brian experienced worrying symptoms after carrying luggage to a top-floor motel unit.
“I carried the suitcases up to the third level, but by the time I got there I had some chest discomfort,” Brian remembers.
“Later we went to dinner and I had another episode on the way back to the motel. The next morning I was worse. I gave my ticket for the one-day cricket international (the New Zealand vs West Indies game) to the motel manager, and had Margaret drive us back to Wellington.”
Brian’s GP promptly sent him to Wellington hospital, where his second heart attack was confirmed.
Since then, Brian has survived a further six heart attacks, 11 stents, being hospitalised in Holland, blackouts that led to a pacemaker being implanted to regulate his heart’s rhythm, and heart failure (a condition where the heart can no longer function properly).
“You name it and I have had it!” says Brian of his experiences with heart problems.
But Brian emphasises he is grateful to still be enjoying life. As a survivor of heart disease, he hopes his booklet will help and inspire others with heart conditions to keep living a full life while taking good care of themselves.
“Having experienced almost every setback heart trouble can bestow and still survived, it seems appropriate to set out my personal experiences in the hope that they show just about anything is possible – even with heart disease.”