Firefighter left fighting for his life

As an airport firefighter and keen dragon boater, Scott Johnson thought he was fit and healthy. He now knows heart disease can affect anyone, at any time.

Scott, a 61-year-old Cantabrian, hadn’t smoked for 15 years and kept a close eye on his health thanks to regular mandatory health and physical tests through the fire service.

But then, in December 2014, a test showed his blood pressure was a bit high.

“I thought I better look into that but December and January are busy times for me so I just didn’t make the time to go to the doctor,” he says.

Two months later, Scott was left regretting that decision.

“I was steering one of our 10-person dragon boats in a time trial, when I suddenly felt really sick. I thought I was going to be sick so I went ashore to use the bathroom but the feeling didn’t really go away.

“I kept going with the dragon boating but then I started to get pains in my chest and thought I better sit down. I realised at this stage I could be having a heart attack and asked anyone if they had any aspirin but no one had any."

The pain in Scott’s chest only got worse – “a terrible kind of squeezing and tightening” – and an ambulance was called.

He was given morphine and, although the exact details are a bit blurry for Scott, he remembers arriving at the hospital and being rushed in to have a stent inserted to open the blood flow to his heart.

The feeling of relief after the stent was inserted was immediate, he recalls.

“I thought I was fixed and would able to go home but the doctors told me there were four blockages in my heart and I would have to have a quadruple bypass.”

Scott then went through an incredibly difficult period as he awaited surgery.

“It was a very long time of waiting around and trying to mentally prepare yourself. I couldn’t go back to work or drive and it was a very drawn-out five weeks. You think you are so tough until someone tells you they are going to cut your chest open with a skill saw!”

When he finally had the bypass surgery, Scott woke up in a lot of pain but feeling relieved that it was finally over.

He is now a year on from surgery and feeling almost completely recovered.

“I still get a bit tired but actually nothing like before I had my heart attack. I used to be so tired when I got home from work and I would have to have a sleep. I didn’t realise this was a warning sign from my body that something was not quite right.”

During a recent physical competency test for work, at the Airport Fire Service. Scott was amazed at his improved performance and recovery time.

”It used to take me more than 40 minutes to recover after one of those tests; now I am fully recovered in less than 20!”

He says attending cardiac rehabilitation classes and referring to Heart Foundation information was a huge help.

“My wife has cooked a lot of foods out of the Heart Foundation cookbooks and I don’t eat as much junk food as I used to. I don’t add salt to anything and I don’t really miss it now,” he says.

Scott’s father died of a massive heart attack in his sleep when he was 62, so Scott feels very lucky to still be here.

“Apart from the occasional ache in my chest and few scars I feel very well.”