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A second chance to live my life

Andrew, an adventure fisherman, entrepreneur and father of four, suffered his first three heart attacks at 40 years old. Now 50, he is encouraging others to get their hearts checked.

Andrew always knew that heart disease ran in the family. But he resisted his mother’s constant advice to have medical check-ups. After all, he was fit and active, so he didn’t think he had much to worry about.

“Being a boy, I thought I was too tough, and it was never going to beat me,” he says.

Unfortunately, he also had another heart attack risk factor: high blood pressure – but he’d avoided medication for that. However, it wasn’t long before his heart health caught up with him.

“I didn’t really think much about the high blood pressure until I had my first big heart event, and probably all the damage was done by that point. It couldn’t have been good for my arteries,” Andrew admits.

“My first heart event was probably the most traumatic out of them all,” he adds.

Heart attack symptoms begin

One afternoon in October 2012, Andrew felt uncomfortable in his upper body while hanging out with friends not far from home. Later that night, the discomfort got worse.

“I was laying on the bed, feeling like my whole chest was closing up, and I could barely breathe,” he recalls. “I was asking myself what was wrong with me and trying to gain some relief by stretching my arms across a doorway. Then back in bed, the pain came back twice as hard. It was a bit scary.”

Andrew went to an after-hours emergency clinic, but an ECG didn’t highlight any irregularities, so he was sent home. A second ECG at the GP the next day was inconclusive, but Andrew knew something was wrong.

“Once I made it to Middlemore Hospital, they realised it was a heart attack. They saw how I was presenting, so I went straight to the ward. They did the blood tests, and within about 10 minutes, it was all go,” he remembers. “It was evident I’d suffered a traumatic heart event and was straight upstairs.”

Stents to open up arteries

After being diagnosed with a heart attack, Andrew was swiftly fitted with stents to open up the blocked arteries and given heart medication to reduce his risk of further heart attacks.

“When I came out of the hospital, I sort of felt bulletproof and had this better quality of life because of the meds and the stents,” he says. “I felt like I was breathing better, not short on breath like before. Now I can look back and see that all the warning signs had been there.”

Andrew quickly discovered how little he knew about managing his heart condition. He is very grateful to the nurses who provided a good diet, exercise, and medication education and helped him make the necessary lifestyle changes.

Adventure fisherman, Andrew Hill, is pictured here sitting on top of his jet ski in the middle of the ocean. He is fishing from the jet ski and the photo captures him mid-cast off.

From bulletproof to back in hospital

Five years after his first heart attack, Andrew was out on his Sea-Doo (personal watercraft) when he experienced a similar discomfort in his chest. He quickly realised it was serious.

“I’d felt like I was invincible for a few years, but that one freaked me out a bit. I was alone, which was quite scary. So many variables could have happened. I would never normally go home without catching a fish, but I felt sick. I thought, ‘This isn’t good’, so I rode home.”

After making it safely off the water, Andrew was soon back in the hospital and fitted with further stents.

As well as dealing with the physical recovery after his second heart event, Andrew also faced emotional challenges.

“I went through being very insecure for years and years, like just wondering, ‘here we go again’ because I couldn’t trust my body. Even when I get a bit of genuine muscle pain now, I think I’m about to go into hospital again because I’ve been in and out so many times.”

Third heart attack hits

Andrew took on board all the advice he received after his first two heart attacks and committed to taking his medication and living a healthy lifestyle.

But despite this, Andrew’s shortness of breath returned three years after his second heart attack and two weeks before Christmas 2019. He called his doctor, who requested blood tests immediately.

On 23 December, Andrew got a call about his results. He remembers his doctor’s words well.

“He told me, ‘I think you’ve had another heart attack; you need to go to Middlemore Hospital right now.’ It was the day before Christmas Eve! I thought, ‘It can’t be that bad, can it?’”

But it was.

Bypass surgery required

“By the third event, they said, ‘We can’t stent you now; you’ll have to have a double bypass.’ But by the time they realised that I had to have a double bypass, most surgeons were away, and it was a long timeline. They were only doing emergency surgeries. I was just in that queue, and I kept getting bumped and bumped,” he says.

“It was very lucky they caught it when they did, though, because I was about to go to Cape Reinga with my family, and that’s super remote, and then I was going to Fiji straight after that. I had this epic holiday planned, but I had to spend the whole time in hospital. It was pretty devastating, but it had to be done.”

Andrew’s confidence lifted when he could walk out of the hospital two days after his double bypass surgery to go home and be with his family.

Recovering after a third heart attack

Surgery aftercare meant he could not fish and ride his jet ski on the ocean. Instead, he read many heart attack success stories that rebuilt his confidence, including those from the Heart Foundation website.

“Seeing people out there living good lives after double bypass surgery really inspires me,” he says. “Now I want to do the same for others. I wish I’d known about all these incredible journeys people have been on before I had my heart events.”

Life-changing treatment and knowledge

Andrew is grateful to all the hard-working doctors and nurses who have helped him through his heart disease journey.

“They all got me through, and I admire the talented people at the top – the surgeons especially,” he says.

“Initially, the medication slowed me down a lot as I got muscle pain, a common side effect of statins. But each time I’ve gone back to the hospital, I’ve learnt a little bit more, and now I really value my pills, which I have changed since. I’ll never forget one of the nurses said, ‘If you don’t take your pills, you’ll die’! And it was good advice.”

Andrew’s huge appreciation for the help he received motivated him to sponsor a jet ski fishing event, raising funds for the Heart Foundation. “We raised a lot of money, and I thought, ‘This is such a good cause’, all those people, all those nurses who were so nice, and it’s something I can do for them to show my appreciation.”

Sharing his story to support others

Andrew has shared his story to motivate others on a similar journey or even help them prevent a heart event in the first place.

“If you have high blood pressure and things aren’t feeling right, don’t be complacent and a typical Kiwi bloke like I was. You need to get on top of it early. Make the most of every day. I should have listened when I was younger to my mother’s advice.”

Andrew changed his priorities significantly, becoming more aware of where he spends his time. He says, “You appreciate life much more, which is pretty special to me. You realise where your priorities are.”

Andrew’s last heartfelt words are a poignant reminder of his journey and what he wants to share with others, “Sometimes you don’t get a second chance in life, so it really pays to look after your body.”

As a Sea-Doo Global Brand Ambassador, Andrew was recently featured in Sea-Doo’s ‘Inspired By’ short film series. You can watch his short film here.

Follow the journey of Sea-Doo ambassador Andrew Hill from a fishing-centric childhood to helping develop the Sea-Doo FishPro.

Shared February 2023

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

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