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Father and son experience heart attack at same time

Steven and his father were hospitalised within the same week after both experiencing heart attacks. For Steven this resulted in having life-saving coronary angioplasty surgery. Following the successful surgery Steven has now given up smoking and lives every day with a more balanced outlook.

As his mother’s carer, Steven is no stranger to medical crises, so when he started experiencing chest pains in January 2023, he knew he couldn’t sit around waiting for something to happen. 

“I was looking after my three-year-old son at the time,” he recalls. “So I asked my stepdad if he could look after him for me and I drove myself to hospital. 

“When I was driving, the chest pain was getting worse and worse. And I actually thought I wasn't going to make it to the hospital. But I did, and all the while it was just getting sorer and sorer.”  

Steven knows now he was lucky to make it to hospital – as with chest pain it’s important to call an ambulance or have someone else drive. But at just 35-years-of-age he wasn’t initially sure he was having a heart event. 

“I thought it was just chest pain,” he says. “I didn’t know that I was having a heart attack. I had no idea it was a problem with my heart.”

Helicopter flight to Wellington and surgery

“When I got to Whanganui hospital I wasn’t there for long before they realised how serious it was,” Steven says. “They decided I needed to go in the chopper to Wellington and have some stents put in straight away.” 

Steven can remember bits and pieces of the flight but most of it was a blur, he says. 

“When I woke up, I was looking at the lady and she asked if I was all right, but then I just started getting real bad chest pains. Then she gave me more medication and I faded out. 

“I remember the helicopter landing,” he says. “And then when I got out of the helicopter, all I could see was a line of lights. And then once I got into theatre, all I could see was shadow heads. Then I felt the pain in my wrist, a real sharp pain. I think that's when they made an incision into my wrist to put the stent in.” 

A stent is a small mesh tube used to open up a narrowed artery in the heart. They are inserted into the heart via a tube (catheter) that enters the body through the wrist or groin.  

“When it was all done, I rang up my stepdad around 8 o'clock that night to tell him I was in Wellington and I'd had surgery,” he says. “Needless to say it was a bit of a shock.”

Family history and support

“My father had a heart attack 13 years ago,” says Steven. “And I hadn’t talked to him for maybe eight years because it went sour between me and him. When I was in hospital, I rang him up. I was like, ‘Life's too short’. So I let him know that I’d had a heart attack and had a stent in me. And then he said to me that he was in the Waikato Hospital and he’d had a heart attack as well!” 

For Steven, it was a huge surprise and coincidence, but for his father, it was too much to believe.  

“My dad had been in hospital three days before me in Hamilton,” says Steven. “It was his second heart attack but he was okay. But after I told him about my own experience, he said he didn’t believe me and I said that it’s not something I would joke about. I threatened to hang up and not talk to him for another eight years and then the alarm bells on my monitor started going off. So he finally did believe me.” 

Steven also had his partner waiting for him in Whanganui but was pleasantly surprised to see her turn up in Wellington after his surgery with some of his close friends. 

“I was so happy because it turned out three of my mates had turned up in Wellington with her! And when I was in the recovery room with them, it was really good and I could reflect on how lucky I’d been.”  

For Steven, the visit was vital to boost his energy levels, and it encouraged him down the path he is now on, to change his lifestyle so that he never has to go through something like this again.

Stopping smoking and other lifestyle changes

“Since my heart attack, I've stopped smoking. I've nailed that on the head now,” Steven says. “I did one or two days with the patch, and then I took the patch off the third day. I said to myself, ‘I'm strong, I can do it’. And I've had only one puff since my heart attack, and it was horrible, it just tasted yuck, and I haven't touched one since.” 

With smoking being one of the leading causes of heart attack and stroke, Steven could so easily have lost his life that day. 

“I looked at my packet when I finally got home and it said ‘Can cause heart attack’ right there. I’m just lucky, I guess, but I should have taken notice sooner. 

“Now when people are smoking around me or when I'm in town, I can actually smell it on them. I go see my mate, and I know when he’s had a smoke. I try to tell him to give it up but it’s not easy unless you’ve been through something like this. He thinks I’m a hypocrite.” 

As well as stopping smoking, Steven now looks after his health in other ways to benefit his heart.  

“I've given up fatty food like takeaways and all that,” he says. “I'm eating a lot of salads at the moment. I’m also taking all my medication, which has been hard to keep up with but definitely worth it. 

Steven has generally slowed down the pace of his life and is doing better for it. 

“I used to be speedy and doing everything so quickly, but even when I go shopping now, I just walk around slowly and plod around. But I still go to my day-to-day care, looking after my mum. She did cry when I rang her up and told her that I’d had a heart attack. Because when my mum and my dad were together, when he had his heart attack, he actually almost died.”

Recovery and outlook for the future

Steven is thankful for getting through his heart attack largely unscathed but knows that it could have gone very differently. 

“When I was in the helicopter, I thought I saw my son as a teenager and the white light and all that,” he says. “But I asked and they told me I was all good and I hadn’t died. I was asking about my heart rate all the way to Wellington, but they kept telling me I was fine. I’m not sure if they were just telling white lies to stop me from panicking but I guess it worked. 

“I’ll probably never know, but what I do know is that I didn’t want to give up. I’ve got so much to live for, especially my son. I want him to grow up with a dad.” 

Steven’s biggest advice to others in a similar situation would be to aim to prevent heart issues by getting on top of your habits and diet early. 

“Rest up and eat healthily and don't eat too many fatty foods. And stop smoking as well. When I was fully recovered I realised this was the most important thing. I knew that cigarettes were harming my body on the inside and it was just vital that I stopped. And with the right motivation, it wasn’t that hard to give it up.” 

If you want to give up smoking to improve your heart health, visit our information page to start on your journey towards quitting.

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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