“Exercise is the only way out”

After two heart attacks, exercise was Jagdish's way to independence and recovery.

Jagdish first noticed his racing heart and fatigue in early 2017 while walking up the hill to the bus stop close to his house. Being a competitive person, he always tried to beat the time it took for him to get there, but when the time started increasing rather than decreasing, he knew something was wrong.

"I realised my heart was beating faster than normal, and I would have to take a deep breath about halfway up," Jagdish remembers.

Jagdish visited his GP in June 2017 and told her about the issue. She suspected angina, so referred him to cardiology, and soon after he attended an appointment for a stress test (PDF). The stress test uncovered the need for further investigation, so he was scheduled to have an angiogram.

The angiogram revealed a blockage in his coronary arteries, which had been the cause of his symptoms. An angioplasty was performed and three stents put in his coronary arteries. Jagdish sustained a heart attack during the procedure as revealed by the rise of the cardiac enzyme (troponin) level which can occur during this procedure.

Heart failure suspected

Jagdish was discharged home after the angioplasty but was feeling uncomfortable. He had a scheduled appointment with his GP the following afternoon; however, in the morning things took a turn for the worse.

"I took a shower then sat down. I put my pants on and then I was literally struggling to breathe. I have a dog and he never left my side; he always was there. Then my wife called an ambulance.

"At that time, I realised that nothing matters in life. When the time comes all you want is just fresh air, a deep breath and you are a happy man. Everything blocks out; all your worry goes away. So that was a good realisation."

The paramedics arrived and took him to hospital. He stayed in hospital for nearly a week while the doctors investigated. Initially heart failure was suspected, however, it turned out that Jagdish had pericarditis (inflammation of the lining of the heart) which explained his symptoms and meant his heart wasn't functioning properly.

A second heart attack

Once home, Jagdish began trying to get his fitness level back slowly.

"I came home and I started a little bit of walking. The first time I couldn't walk 10 steps without getting what felt like a knot in my heart."

Over the following days his stamina improved and he was able to walk a little further. After a walk to the neighbour's postbox one evening, Jagdish used his GTN spray for the knotting feeling in his chest.

"I sprayed and sprayed, and nothing happened. I then called an ambulance and was rushed into hospital again."

Jagdish recalls that the next day he was told he'd had a myocardial infarction (heart attack). 

"At that point of time I didn’t know what was happening to me. At 65 I resist the urge to take a Panadol for a headache and then suddenly it was explained to me what a myocardial infection is and then I knew I’d had a heart attack." 

Adverse drug reaction

Two months later Jagdish was improving slowly. He was still taking medication for pericarditis and finding walking difficult. 

"My mind was on nothing. I just wanted to walk normally, to do things which a normal person can do. I wondered if I would ever be able to swim. I asked the doctor and he said no, just walking."

One Saturday at the end of August, Jagdish noticed some swelling on his face, which he assumed was an insect bite, so took an antihistamine. 

"On the Monday morning I had an appointment at Greenlane Hospital for my regular checkup. By that time my face was totally swollen." 

He was called into his appointment by a nurse, who quickly realised something was wrong as Jagdish couldn’t talk properly. 

"I couldn't figure out what was happening and my doctor came in and gave me an injection. It was a reaction to the drugs I was taking. I was rushed to the hospital to the ED again and if I hadn’t been in hospital this would have been close."

Recovery

Once Jagdish was back at home, he wanted to get back to full strength. After attending cardiac rehab, he was offered a place on an exercise research programme at the University of Auckland, which was being run by a PhD student. 

"So, three days a week, I went to a monitored exercise programme. (The student) put monitors and all those gadgets on me, then we started the treadmill for four or five minutes, and I said 'I'm knotting up!' But she said, 'Keep walking, don't worry, I've got the monitors and doctor's here so there's medical help within seconds.'

"For 12 weeks I was there with her. Initially it was hard, but it went very well and I used to feel nice. One-and-a-half hours of doing this seemed like no time. It's all about power and consistency, and I'm telling you it's a miracle. All the knotting and everything went. My ejection fraction was 20 or 21 when I first went there. When I finished in January, it had gone up to 55, which is normal for my age group. Now I'm feeling good and it really brought me back." 

Once the exercise programme had finished, Jagdish started a new job in the library and began to look for other ways he could keep his fitness. This has included walking the dog, cycling with his wife, going for regular swims, and he also joined a sailing club with his son.

"We live in the city of sailing and this is one thing I wanted to do. My son said, 'You can do it, you can do it!' The club had a very good support system. They want you to learn if the boat flips you should flip it back and it's one of the finest things. It was on my bucket list to learn."

Moving on with life

More than two years on from his heart attack, Jagdish is doing well and has recently returned from a trip to India. 

"My theory is if you are a cardiac patient, you can come back to normal, or better. I became better because my sport days were gone, and I was never intensively exercising. I used to do some push-ups, some stretches at home and think I was fit. Now I realise you need to keep exercising routinely. I think the way to come back from any kind of problem is exercise.

"I never thought about dying or was afraid of dying. I was keen to be healthy and fit while I live. The quality of life is best when one is independent. 

"Stress is normal thing in life, unfortunately. You just have to manage the best way you can. But the moment you dive into the pool and the moment you are on the bike you don’t think of all these things.

"I appreciate the support from my family and my work colleagues, without whom I wouldn’t be alive to tell the tale."

Shared April 2020

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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