A subtle surprise

Reflecting on his heart attack, Trent realises how subtle signs and symptoms can be. Now he's doing all he can to educate people about the dangers of coronary artery disease and what can be done about it.

With a family history of heart disease, Trent has always tried to lower his risk of a heart attack.

"I recognised that I was at high risk," Trent explains. "So I’ve stayed pretty active, played a lot of sport and I was running up to a couple of years ago. My cardiologist said if I had been a smoker and not as fit, I wouldn't have survived the heart attack."

Trent also had high blood pressure, which was managed with medication, and thinks that his high stress business activities over the years played a part in his heart attack.

"I've worked on average 75 hours a week for over 20 years. I probably underestimated the overall impact of that on my heart health."

A heart 'incident'

Over a period of about 18 months, Trent found himself becoming increasingly breathless under exertion, but just put it down to being unfit and increased his fitness regime. Then one day in March, when taking the bins out, Trent noticed his chest feeling tight.

"I'd woken up that morning to help my wife get off to work and I’d felt, not nauseous, but sort of not well. We’ve got a long and steep driveway from our house and I walked to take the bin down and when I was walking back up, half way I felt really wasted. I started getting this feeling of tightness on the chest and it felt like a truck had hit me."

Trent sat down on the wall of the driveway and after 10 minutes was feeling a little better, so continued to the house, but by the time he made it through the door he was feeling unwell again. 

"I went inside and put myself on my blood pressure monitor, which was reading 195/100, and I realised that's very high. I called up my GP, got through to the nurse and she said 'You need to call an ambulance.' I said I'd just sit there and wait it out."

Not wanting to make a fuss, Trent waited. But after a while, took the advice of the nurse and called an ambulance.

A waiting game

On arrival at the hospital, Trent was admitted into a ward and after an ECG and troponin (an enzyme that appears in the blood after damage to the heart) test, was referred for an inpatient coronary angiogram. 

Over the following five days, while waiting for the angiogram, Trent began to experience regular episodes of angina and in the early hours of one morning he alerted the nursing staff to the tightness in his chest that wasn't relieved by GTN (angina medication).

His troponin levels were tested again, and when the results returned with an increased level, it confirmed that he had had a heart attack and he was transferred to the cardiology unit.

After further testing, Trent was taken for an angiogram and one stent was inserted to reopen the blocked coronary artery that had caused the heart attack.

Trent was discharged from hospital two days later and after resting for three weeks, was back to his normal routine.

"I still can't treat it as a heart attack. The psychological barrier just to think I've had a heart attack, I still can't get my head around it. In fact, I still refer about it to my family as a bit of a heart incident, so is that denial? I don't know!"

The next challenge

Trent knows that the stent isn't a cure for his underlying heart disease and is aware that he has to take a proactive approach to his health to reduce his risk of having another heart attack.

"The cardiologist said that the stent will serve its purpose, but they don’t guarantee it. Because it's a disease of all the arteries, it doesn't mean that others won't be blocking elsewhere. If you have another heart attack, the symptoms could be quite different. You just need to be aware if it is out of the norm."

Trent will carry on with his healthy diet, as well as taking his prescribed medication, which includes a statin for reducing his cholesterol and an anticoagulant to thin his blood and prevent the stent from becoming blocked. He is also still taking medication to manage his blood pressure and regularly checks his BP reading on a home monitor.

He also will continue his exercise routine at the gym, just with less weights than before.

"I've always had strong upper body, but my cardiologist said it's a bit of a man approach to be going and pushing weights about."

Spreading the message

Trent attended the cardiac rehab classes offered at his local hospital and while he found it helpful, has seen a gap in the market in his area for people to go and just talk with others in a similar situation.

"There is a real lack of information forums for people who can sit and talk about their experience and to gauge their ongoing progress. The doctors can't provide it because they don’t have time.

"The best session we had at cardiac rehab was when a cardiologist turned up who'd had cardiovascular disease himself and he went round everyone in the room and we all shared our experience, how we felt now, and he shared his own experience. It lightened up the room like you wouldn't believe."

To address this, Trent has since started a group called Heartbeats, which will be meeting regularly around Auckland's North Shore.

"What I found really interesting is how much the symptoms of a heart attack can be masked. People treat it as just not feeling quite well or a bit of an ache. Having experienced this situation myself, I thought this really needs to be communicated so anything I can do to help and share experiences is great."

"I think the best thing for people to do, is to identify if you are high risk. Then if you recognise that, start learning about some of the presentation of systems and start working into some of the regimes of diet and exercise."

Shared October 2019

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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