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Delayed medical attention leads to greater heart damage

Stig had a heart attack while on holiday, but didn't get properly checked out until he returned to Auckland later. As a result he's had to live with permanent heart damage.

"When I had a check-up a few years ago, they told me that because I didn't have immediate attention when I first had my heart attack, that about a third of my heart muscle had died. They also told me that they would have to manage me with medication because there was nothing left to operate on," says Stig.

It started in August 1982 when Stig flew north of Cairns to Cooktown when on holiday.

He borrowed a push bike to ride to the beach a couple of kilometres away, but noticed he'd started getting pains, mainly on his right side.

"The further I went, the worse I was feeling. I should have returned to the guest house." But an hour or so later on the beach while reading a book, Stig suddenly couldn't see what he was reading.

"I looked around and it was dark everywhere, which was strange as it was 1pm in the afternoon. I stood up, looked around and collapsed, I was conscious but I couldn't move.

"I was lying below the high water mark and all I could think about was that I was going to drown when the tide came in."

"I could only look out over the water and it was a strange darkness, like a total solar eclipse that I had seen before in the mid-50s. My whole body was shaking badly and I was really worried as I was lying below the high water mark and all I could think about was that I was going to drown when the tide came in."

After a while, Stig was able to move again and stand up. He was able to reach some people that were camping nearby and they took him back to the guest house where he asked the landlady to keep an eye on him – it was Saturday and there was no doctor in the little town.

"On the Monday, the doctor came up from Cairns. He didn't have any equipment to check me out properly, so he told me 'as soon as you get back to civilisation, you must go and see your doctor.' But I had some holiday left so I wasn't in a hurry to go back."

When he did get back to Auckland, he went back to work "like nothing had happened", but started to feel worse as time went on...

The diagnosis

"Finally in early November, I saw my doctor. And, of course, he knew exactly what had happened. He sent me up the road to another doctor who did an ECG, gave me the printout and told me to go back to my doctor."

Ninety minutes later Stig was in Middlemore Hospital's Intensive Care Unit. It turns out he'd had a heart attack on the beach that day. He had blocked arteries and needed a double bypass operation, so he was transferred to Greenlane Hospital.

Even though the operation was successful, Stig did not feel at all well. A couple of months later, Stig returned to work but still felt dizzy and sick especially when he bent down.

14 years later...

"Then in 1996, 14 years after my first operation I noticed when I was doing the lawns that my wrists were aching. The next time I did the lawns the pain was worse than before and I suspected it was angina pain.”

Stig went and had an angiogram and ended up having a second operation – a quadruple bypass this time.

After a while Stig returned to work but still felt sick and dizzy, worse than ever before. Even on light duties he still found things hard.

After about a year he was checked out by a cardiologist, who suspected that Stig had a breathing disorder and referred him to a physiotherapist. She found that Stig's breathing was “rather odd”.

"Normally you would take about 10 breaths per minute and I was taking around 22," he says.

"This explained why I was always feeling sick." Stig's breathing was too fast and shallow and he was not getting enough fresh oxygen on board, which was making him feel light-headed. What caused the breathing disorder is unclear, but he had probably had it since after the operation in 1982.

When his employer offered him early retirement at the age of 56, he accepted it.

"Since leaving work there have been a few bumps in the road and I have been seen a few times by different doctors." He has been on medication since 1996 and is monitored by his doctor every three months.

Now, he hopes his experience might be of benefit to others. The extent of the damage to his heart could have been prevented if he had seen a doctor faster following his first heart attack.

"That's my story," says Stig. "There are a few things to learn from that. You shouldn't take it as casually as I did."

The message: Get help immediately!


Shared November 2016

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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