From undiagnosed chest pains to bypass surgery

Warren never guessed that the slight breathlessness he’d been experiencing was a cardiac problem that would require open heart surgery.

Warren had been experiencing symptoms of a heart problem for 12 months before they peaked one night, causing pain that had a vice-like grip on his body.

The severity of the pain was a surprise. After all, the symptoms he'd been experiencing for the previous 12 months had been much more subtle.

"I'd be walking up the road and I would have to stop every so often as I got breathless and sore in the chest – that was during the year 2000."

Warren had seen his doctor, who had told him to come back if the chest pains got worse.

Then, on the night of 7 January 2001, Warren woke up in bed at 1.30am, barely able to breathe.

Chest pain and breathlessness make Warren call for help

"It was like someone was turning a vice around my stomach, squeezing me. I said to my wife 'I can hardly breathe' and all I got was a thump in the side and, 'Don't yell at me, boy'. 

"It was just that I'd hardly ever been sick," chuckles Warren, when recalling his wife's first reaction. 

Quickly, however, she realised the urgency of the situation and went next door for help. 

"The lady next door works in Ward 7B, that's the serious heart area (of the hospital)," explains Warren. 

When his neighbour arrived, she suggested he had angina pain and called an ambulance. By 2.45am Warren was in hospital.

"It was a Sunday morning. Then Sunday afternoon they did an angiogram and said 'Your arteries are too blocked up, we will have to operate'. That night the surgeon came around after tea and asked if Wednesday morning would be all right? I said, 'Just do what you have to do, you're the expert. I'm easy-going with medical stuff'."

In his doctors' hands

Warren wasn't too worried about the surgery – he had full faith in his doctors. When he was wheeled into theatre, Warren told them he hadn't been sleeping. 

"They said, 'We will soon fix that'. They put an injection in my hand and that was the finish of that." 

The medical team successfully carried out a quadruple bypass.

"They took three vein grafts and one artery graft and said that would give me 15 to 20 years." 

Now 16 years on, Warren likes to joke that he's "running out of time". But, in fact, he's been in excellent health. Since his operation, he's had no further symptoms and at 75 is still fit and active.

Warren's secret to recovery – keep active

Warren believes keeping fit has been key to his ongoing good health. He was fit before his heart problems began and was keen to get active again as soon as possible. In fact, initially, the nurses had to tell him to take it easy.

"I started walking around, thinking I was going to help myself. They said, 'Get back into bed, you have just had major surgery'."

Warren did as advised and was soon back on his feet. "I was an active person and I thought the sooner I get out walking again, the better."

His surgery was in January, and by April he was walking all around Dunedin again, just getting from A to B and keeping active.

"Later that year, in December, I went on the Hump Ridge Track with two people from the Phoenix Club (a Dunedin cardiac support club)," he adds.

"I recovered well after surgery, and I've never had any trouble since. The main thing is to keep active and think positive. I don't go out in the car and think 'I'm going to have a heart attack going over Saddle Hill'. I don’t think those sorts of things. I feel fine and that's it.

"If I didn't feel right, I would be around to the doctor smartly. The doctor only sees me when I come in to get my prescription."

Even on that front, Warren sees a glass half-full.

"I'm only on four tablets a day. That's not many is it? Not after a major job like that."

Shared December 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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