One week, two heart attacks

Canterbury builder Paul Arthur is lucky to be alive after suffering two heart attacks playing rugby in the space of a week. It wasn’t until the second, more severe attack, that he realised he needed medical help.

In 2010, Paul was at Sheldon Park in Belfast, Canterbury, when he first felt an unusual pain in his left shoulder and down his arm. He assumed it was a pinched nerve from playing rugby, so he carried on and finished the game.

Shortly afterwards, the pain was mostly gone and the 41-year-old didn’t give it another thought.

But just seven days later he was back playing rugby and the pain returned – this time it was more intense. The pain worsened after the game, moving into his right arm. He felt a cold sensation in his chest.

Paul’s wife Lindie, who was five months pregnant at the time, picked him up from the park. Despite feeling ill, he initially dismissed Lindie’s suggestion to go to the doctor. They and Paul’s two young children were planning to travel to Kaikoura – about two and a half hours’ drive away – and Paul insisted he’d wait and get checked out when they arrived.

But they didn’t make it. The pain became excruciating and the family stopped in Amberley, where the local doctor immediately said Paul was having a heart attack and called an ambulance.

Blood tests at the hospital confirmed not only that Paul was having a heart attack, but that he had suffered one a week earlier too, when he first felt the pain. Paul had not recognised that the pain in his shoulder and arm were typical heart attack symptoms.

A stent was inserted to unblock his artery and Paul spent a week undergoing tests.

“It was a week of hell as I was poked and prodded, and had endless tests, although the care was amazing and the staff at Christchurch Hospital deserve a 10/10.”

Even when he was well enough to go home, Paul was still unable to work for another four weeks.

“The doctors wanted me to have two or three months off, but I had no medical insurance. Being self-employed with a family to support, it just wasn’t practical to have that much time off work.” 

The year after his heart attack was a difficult one for Paul and his family.

“I was only 41, a lot younger than I thought I would be before I had to think seriously about my health. I was very worried about dropping dead at work and not seeing my children grow up. It took about 18 months before I felt normal again.”

But six years on, Paul is feeling much better and has made some healthy lifestyle changes.

“When I look back on my life before the heart attack, I can see it was very unhealthy – although I didn’t realise it at the time. I was working very long hours, was feeling very stressed by the recession and was worried about losing my business and my house. I was drinking a lot, regularly staying out all night in the weekends and living on pies and takeaways.”

Paul credits Lindie – who he had married only months before his heart attack – with helping him to live more healthily.

“I have settled down a lot. I still drink but not nearly as much and I make an effort to regularly eat fruit and vegetables, drink water and to have sushi instead of a pie if I want to grab something quickly. Now a late night for me is midnight,” says Paul.

“Because I am looking after myself I feel a lot healthier and have a lot more energy than I did before my heart attack.”

Thanks to donations from our generous supporters, we are currently funding a number of research projects to improve the way we predict and treat heart attacks.

For example, Associate Professor Dr John Pickering's research aims to speed up the way we diagnose heart attacks, which will help improve outcomes for patients in New Zealand and could potentially save lives.

This kind of research is vital because we’re currently losing more than 40 Kiwi mums, dads, sons and daughters to a heart attack every week.

Please help us fund more life-saving research so we can keep our families together for longer.