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“Appreciate what you’ve got”

Gordon had been having chest pains for months, but he ignored them, assuming he'd be alright. Since his heart attack, however, he's learnt to appreciate every day that he's alive.

A typical Kiwi bloke, Gordon was used to knuckling down and getting on with things. After running his family business for 20 years and raising five kids, he usually put his own needs last. So, when the Hamilton man first started getting chest pains a years ago, he ignored it.

"I hadn't been very well for a while, but I'd just shrugged it off. When I was lying in bed, I'd feel as though I'd got a balloon in my stomach, in my chest, like it was going to explode. I used to get these pains, almost like I was going to vomit, but I thought it was nothing."

He got a further warning sign when out mowing the lawns one weekend.

"I was mowing the lawn one Sunday and then couldn't mow it any further. I felt really lousy. I just turned the mower off and I couldn't go another step. I came in to my wife and said, 'I'm not well Margaret.' I didn't go to the doctor though, I just shrugged it off."

When he had all-night chest and neck pain about a month later, it was Gordon's wife who took action.

"I had pain up here in my neck and top of my chest that went all night," Gordon recalls. "I reckon it was about four out of 10, it wasn't very strong. My wife rang Healthline, they said it could be heart burn. So she rang the doctor the next day who said to come up at 10.30 on the Tuesday."

With the car at the garage getting its warrant, Gordon headed for the doctor's surgery on his push bike. But when he got to the bottom of a big hill, he realised he couldn't bike up it and had to walk instead.

When he finally arrived at the practice, the nurse took one look at him and said, "You're not well."

"I just broke down, all sweaty and they shot me straight into the ambulance," he says. "I didn't know where I was in the ambulance, I was talking a load of rubbish, gibberish. But I was scared, I've got to admit."

Angiogram and stent

At hospital, the medical team confirmed Gordon had suffered a heart attack and sent him for an angiogram.

By chance, one of Gordon’s sons who lives in Tauranga, happened to be working in town that day and could be at the hospital with him.

"When I was going in to the operating theatre he put his hand on me. I turned around and I got quite a shock to see him there. He was told to ring the family. I didn't realise it was so serious until then."

During the angiogram Gordon had a stent inserted, a procedure he found quite uncomfortable.

"I've had some pretty nasty injures over the years working in the meat industry, running my own business and on farms in the last job. I've had quite a fair few nasty cuts, so I don't have a fear of pain, but this did hurt."

While he found the clinical team brilliant, he was pleased to get through the hospital ordeal.

"I'll be honest with you, all the time I was in hospital I felt horrible. No disrespect to the hospital I just didn't feel right. I remember on the day I came out, my wife came to pick me up, I didn't feel well at all in myself."

Heart attack risk factors

Looking back, Gordon was hardly a 'heart attack waiting to happen'. In fact, his modifiable risk factors were pretty low.

He had never smoked and wasn’t much of a drinker either, just enjoying the odd glass with family on special occasions. What's more he'd been active all his life, playing sport, walking, cycling and swimming.

However, with five kids and a family business to run, stress had been a regular factor in his life.

"I remember, my eldest son said, 'Look Dad one day stress will kill you, it's as simple as that'," says Gordon.

He also had a family history of heart disease.

"My late mother apparently dropped dead of a heart attack. It was a shock, she was only 69," he says.

Since his own heart attack, he’s now on medication to reduce his risk of future events. Gordon has also made some changes to his diet, making sure he's eating lots of fruit and vegetables and taking more notice of the fat and sugar content of items he's buying.

"I've been through all those products at the supermarket and I was amazed at the amount of sugar in things. Just about everything you pick up has got sugar in it."

Life changing event

As with any near-death experience, Gordon's heart attack has led him to reflect on life.

"Sometimes I used to put the business before my family. I said that to a guy one day and he said, 'you're a fool'. I probably was too dedicated."

Now he's learnt to appreciate the small things.

"I'm probably more aware of life, such as sitting outside and watching leaves fall off the tree – a little thing like that, but it's actually a big thing. It's made me appreciate life a bit more, it's made me appreciate every day."

He says that would be his main message to others.

"Look on the bright side. Every day is a bonus and appreciate what you've got!"


Shared November 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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