Family heart history prompts lifestyle changes

After watching both her father and brother go in for heart bypass surgery, Tina wants others to know that it’s worth checking on your heart.

Now aged 61, Tina had reason to review her family’s history of heart disease last year, when her younger brother Charlie ended up in hospital.

He’d been having, what he thought, were bouts of indigestion for about two years. At around 3am one Sunday, the pain got so bad he had to head to hospital and was admitted to the cardiac ward.

“The next day they’d done the ECG (PDF), they’d done the blood tests, they’d done everything else and he’d been told he was fine. He said they’d scheduled an angiogram for the Monday, but he was worried they wouldn’t find anything.”

Charlie felt he’d made a fuss for no good reason, but Tina reminded him of the experience of their father more than thirty years earlier.

Family history repeats itself

“My dad went to hospital one day with that typical shoulder pain and chest pain, but after doing all the standard tests of the time, he was told he was fine. They’d told him he could go home the next day.

“Thankfully for my dad, he had a heart attack while he was still in hospital. The next day he had an angiography, where they inserted a camera into his groin and fed it up to the heart to see what was going on. He ended up needing a quadruple bypass.”

What’s more, the family history of heart disease wasn’t just on Tina’s father’s side.

“Our nana died from ischaemic heart disease at 57, and Mum’s brother had had two major heart surgeries by the time he was in his early 60s and he died at about 63.

“Once we gave the doctors those details, they took his symptoms a lot more seriously as there were major heart problems on both sides of the family.”

The angiogram test revealed Tina’s brother had three seriously blocked arteries, meaning that he would re-trace his father’s footsteps and have heart bypass surgery.

“The amazing thing is what they can do with heart surgery. Dad lived another thirty years, and it’s pretty amazing to think it lasted that long. It’s just wonderful what they can do now to extend people’s lives.”

Improving the odds of staying healthy

Given Tina’s family history, she will be checking things thoroughly with her doctor. “I have no obvious symptoms but then that runs in our family,” Tina says.

“I’m upping my exercise regime, and working harder on eating well and on keeping my blood pressure within a healthy range. I’m also learning to manage stress more effectively, and to make all of these things part of my normal everyday life.”

Message for others

“One of the things my brother did on his Facebook page, a few days after his operation, was to put up a post encouraging his mates to get any symptoms checked out. He said, ‘Guys, we’re terrible at looking after our health, we think it’s nothing, I’m tough, I’m fine, there’s no problem. And then we find out the hard way.”’

Tina adds, “It’s important for people to keep persisting if they know something’s not right because heart disease, as my father and brother demonstrate, is not always obvious.”

 

Shared July 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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