From undiagnosed chest pains to ischaemic heart failure

“I could hardly breathe. It was as though someone was turning a vice around my stomach, squeezing me,” says Warren who had noticed some chest pains before, but nothing like this.

Warren first noticed a problem 12 months before his symptoms peaked into a vice-like grip on his body.

His first clues were more subtle. “I was 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.

“I went to my doctor and said that I was ‘getting chest pains, doctor’. He said 'if it gets any worse come back and see me'. Simple as that, right!” 

On the night of January 7th 2001, Warren woke up in bed at 1.30am, barely able to breathe. “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 he’d hardly ever been sick, chuckles Warren when recalling his wife’s first reaction. Quickly, however, she went next door and got their neighbour out of bed – “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 dialled for an ambulance.

By 2.45am Warren was in hospital.

“It was a Sunday morning. Then Sunday afternoon they did an angiogram and said ‘you are too blocked up, we will have to operate’. That night the surgeon came around after tea and asked if Wednesday morning would be alright? I said ‘yeah, just do what you have to do, you’re the expert, I’m easy-going with medical stuff’. So that’s what happened that weekend.”

In his doctors’ hands

Warren wasn’t too worried about what would happen next – he had full faith in his doctors.

When he was wheeled into theatre, Warren told them he couldn’t sleep. “They said ‘we will soon fix that’. They put an injection in my hand and that was the finish of that.” 

Warren had open heart surgery and needed a quadruple bypass.

“They took three vein grafts and one artery graft and said they would give it 15 to 20 years.” Warren's had 15 years and 11 months already, so jokes that he’s “run out of time”. Clearly, that’s not how Warren really sees it though - he's as energised as ever.

Since his operation, he’s had no further symptoms and now aged 75 he is still fit and active.

“I haven’t had any (chest pains) since this was done. Even the doctor said ‘I can’t understand how you aren’t getting chest pains now after 15 years’. Warren's assured his doctor if he did get chest pains he'd be round there "smartly" or "down to the hospital in an ambulance"...

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, which is why he couldn’t figure out the chest pains at first. Even after surgery – perhaps too soon after – all he wanted was to move about and take walks through the ward.

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, but they couldn’t keep him down for long. “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 sort 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.” And 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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