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A silent heart attack

Janice knew she hadn’t been feeling 100%, but it wasn’t until her GP ordered some blood tests that she discovered she’d had a heart attack.

Janice first noticed her heart symptoms – breathlessness and exhaustion – around Christmas 2007. Although she had a family history of heart disease, a blood pressure check at the GP revealed nothing, so she didn’t think too much of it.

Then one morning in late February, she noticed a strange discomfort in her chest.

“I felt this real tightness. I really didn’t understand what was happening, just felt a bit nauseous. I rested a while then I had a shower and went off to work. I didn’t feel all that wonderful during the day, but I coped.”

She spent the weekend away with her husband and friends. Again, she noticed some nausea and tiredness, but nothing she couldn’t cope with.

Blood tests reveal a heart attack

When she still had the symptoms on Monday, Janice booked an appointment with her local GP in Timaru. It was then that an ECG and some blood tests revealed something more serious.

“The doctor contacted me late afternoon and said, ‘It appears you’ve had a heart attack’ and suggested I shouldn’t go back to work.”

Janice’s GP referred her to a cardiologist in Christchurch who arranged for her to have an angiogram several weeks later.

“After my angiogram, the cardiologist said he couldn’t do stents for me. I would have to have a bypass because I had one artery that was 100% blocked and three others that were 70% blocked. But because I hadn’t been admitted to hospital with my condition I had to go on a waiting list for my operation.”

A long wait for surgery

Janice returned to Timaru to wait for coronary artery bypass graft surgery. She found it frustrating that she couldn’t get a fixed date for the operation.

“It was slightly anxious waiting, I got quite impatient wanting to know. But I was never able to get a date – all the hospital could tell me was that I would be called up within six months.”

She dealt with the delay by preparing as best she could for the operation: taking her medication, walking daily and watching what she ate. She also took the unusual step of attending cardiac rehabilitation before her surgery – a move she found extremely beneficial.

“I thought that would help me understand what I was going to have to go through, because I really didn’t know what was going to happen to me when I had my operation. I’d never been to hospital before,” she explains.

Further delays

Finally, in August – six months after she’d learnt of her heart attack – Janice went for bypass surgery.

She travelled to Christchurch Hospital and was admitted, but in early afternoon she was told that an emergency case had come in and that she would have to come back the following day.

After staying the night with relatives in Christchurch, Janice learned her surgery had been cancelled a second time. She was told to return to Timaru to wait for another call up. 

Thankfully, the hospital recognised the difficulty for Janice in travelling to and from Christchurch for the surgery and organised for the operation to be carried out at a nearby private hospital in Christchurch.

A successful recovery

Janice underwent successful bypass surgery in early September 2008.

“It went very well. I was a bit sore for a couple of days and then after that, I was able to get out and walk. It was fine. My scars healed very well, and I had no problems whatsoever.”

She went back to cardiac rehabilitation after the surgery and made sure she kept up her physical activity.

“To start off with, when I got home from surgery, I just walked up to a corner and back, quite a short distance, but after two or three weeks I was able to do my normal walk. I went to the Green Prescription organised by Sport Canterbury at a local gym. I also have been doing Tai Chi, which I enjoy.”

Stay healthy and go for heart checks

These days, Janice volunteers for the Heart Foundation Timaru branch office and is a keen member of the local cardiac club.

“I enjoy going and they’re a really friendly group of people, they have some very interesting speakers and you’re able to share your experiences with other people.”

As well as suffering her own heart attack, Janice lost two grandparents, her brother and her mother to heart disease. So, she knows the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and regular check-ups with the doctor. It’s a message she’s keen to pass on to others too.

“Keep yourself fit and active and keep healthy by eating the right foods. I feel it’s all about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and balancing that with plenty of exercise. It’s also important to share your experiences with other people to help them to do the right thing and be able to get the right treatment for their problems.” 

After her experience, she also urges people to go immediately to hospital should they feel any kind of heart attack symptoms. She thinks if she’d done this she could have avoided some of the delays she experienced while waiting for her surgery.

“In hindsight, I should have gone to the hospital, but I didn’t. So, ring the ambulance and go to hospital when you first have your heart attack.”



Shared October 2018

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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1 Comment

  • Judith 15 January 2019

    Most interesting, what age, still working!! It is hard to differentiate between “wind round the heart” & something more sinister. Busy GPs welcome firm symptoms! if you see what I mean!