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Scary but definitely worth it

If you’re facing major heart surgery, Philip Elvidge’s story shows that although it can be a daunting experience, the outcome is definitely worth it. 

Philip is living proof that life can go on after major heart surgery and, as a volunteer for the Heart Foundation, he wants to pass on his positive message of recovery. 

It was Christmas Day back in 1959 when Philip, aged seven, was rushed to hospital after becoming breathless while riding his new bike.  

The Christchurch lad endured six weeks of traumatic penicillin injections every six hours, before eventually being sent to Auckland for major surgery to fix a damaged aorta. 

He missed a whole school term and was not allowed to play any sport for three years.  

Now, almost 50 years later, the trauma of that experience is still fresh in Philip’s mind and the scars are still visible. 

“The experience gave me a needle phobia for life and I still find Christmas a difficult time,” he says. 

Philip has been able to live a relatively normal life but has had many hospital visits over the years. 

At the age of 50, he had another major operation, this time to insert an aortic stent where the coarctation had been performed so many years before. 

But Philip’s condition gradually deteriorated over the next 10 years and he found himself increasingly breathless and extremely tired. Even walking to the letterbox became an effort. 

His aortic valve had calcified and needed to be replaced with a mechanical one. Philip knew another operation was needed but it took him a year to prepare mentally to go through it all again. 

“My childhood experience really affected me but I was resolved that it had to be done.” 

The operation was performed last year, leaving Philip with another massive scar and a noisy but efficient mechanical valve.  

“I can hear it when I lie down but I don’t focus on it – it would drive me mad.”

Philip says he couldn’t drive for a month because the scar was “pretty painful” but he used one of the Heart Foundation’s cardiac cushions under his seatbelt to relieve the pressure.

Overall, the experience was not as bad as he expected and Philip is keen to tell others that although major surgery can be a scary experience, the outcome is definitely worth it. 

“I had a lot of support from my wife and children, outstanding care from the hospital, and it is mind-boggling how much better I feel now and what I can do.

“It was hard at the time but now I want to talk to others who may be going through the same thing. Talking about it has helped restore my energy and positive attitude.” 

He is now back at work full-time and looking forward to his son’s wedding in Rarotonga. Philip’s biggest goal is to get fitter so he can go back hunting again.