Skip to main content

Heart attack leads to car racing

Robin’s heart attack wasn’t as dramatic or painful as he’d expected, but it gave him the shock he needed to get himself into gear. Now, Robin walks religiously to keep himself in good shape and reduce the risk of another event.

The day before Robin’s heart attack, he felt overly tired after exercising on the cross trainer. As he had a history of high blood pressure, Robin checked it but found the measurement to be normal.

Robin tried to exercise again the next morning and felt worse than the previous day.

“I thought that it must just be me not being fit anymore,” Robin said. “I’m not 25 after all, I’m nearly 65!”

He carried on as normal, ignoring the intermittent pain in his chest and the funny feeling in his head.

“I thought I might have the flu or something, so I thought whatever it is, it will probably sort itself out.”

Heart attack warning signs

Later that night, Robin saw the Heart Foundation’s television advert and quietly considered that he might be having a heart attack. He dismissed the idea as paranoia, didn’t mention it to his wife, and they headed to bed.

At about three o’clock in the morning Robin’s wife woke to him coughing so checked that he was ok.

“I gotta say the next thing she did was something I’d been dreaming of for years. Ever since I was a teenager. She reached over and touched me and said, “you’re hot!” and I thought ‘yes! Finally, someone recognises it!’

“But talk about being built up only to be knocked down again. She got up, turned on the light and said “you look awful. I’m ringing an ambulance.”

Robin argued against it, but his wife ignored him. After the ambulance dropped him at the Southland Hospital in Invercargill, Robin was transferred by helicopter to the cardiology unit at Dunedin Hospital.

Heart attack diagnosed

Even though Robin didn’t think the pain was that bad, on arrival at Dunedin Hospital the medical team quickly diagnosed a heart attack.

“They asked me all sorts of questions about how painful it was on a scale of one to ten, but what I had was nothing. It might have been a two or a three. I had an uncomfortable feeling in my chest and apart from the fact that my wife said I looked awful and a bit sweaty, I didn’t have the typical elephant on the chest or pains down my arm.”

Robin was sent to have an angiogram to assess the extent of the blockages in his arteries. By 9am that morning, he was fitted with three stents and blood flow was restored.

Getting used to life with heart disease

The medical staff at Dunedin Hospital told Robin to take it easy at home during his recovery, and to ease himself back into exercise gently.

“When I got home, the lawns needed a mow so I got started on that, but my wife told me off and when I got back inside I had this pain in my chest.”

Concerned that the pain was coming from his heart, Robin used the GTN spray he had been prescribed. Then he fainted. Robin’s wife immediately called an ambulance and when the paramedics arrived they insisted he go to hospital for further checks.  

Fortunately, it wasn’t a heart attack and Robin was allowed home again.

Support and realisations

Robin was very impressed with the treatment and support he has received after this heart attack.

“Top-class support and top-class people. From the ambulance people through to the hospital staff and, after that, from the people who run the education (cardiac rehab) out of Southland Hospital. It was very good, because they give you an opportunity to confirm if what you were doing was on the right track before it happened, and later it reinforced the need for a lifestyle change, but the number who go to the session was much less than the number who have an issue.”

Even though Robin didn’t consider himself to be unfit, he realised that before his heart attack he probably hadn’t been on top form for a while.

Lifestyle changes

After the heart attack, Robin began walking regularly for exercise and saw a noticeable change in his ability as time progressed. He started recording his steps on a smart watch and in the last 12 months, has walked an impressive 3,300km.

Robin also altered his diet by reducing the amount of cheese he was eating and cutting out sweet treats. With these changes alongside the exercise, he lost 12kg.

For more than 26 years, Robin has worked as a Chaplain. During this time he has worked with lots of Kiwi men who considered themselves to be “bullet proof”.

“We don’t take too kindly to being told stuff, but the message to guys is: wake up a bit, we’re not as bullet proof as we think we are.

“I’d been dishing out exercise advice to people dealing with stress issues and similar things to that over the years. The number of times that I’d talk to people who had taken it up, and they would talk about the benefits. Things like how it cleared their heads and how they could look at the world differently.

“I needed to be listening to it myself. Whether it would have prevented a heart attack – I don’t know. Maybe I ate too many mince pies.”

Car racing

Robin “accidentally” ended up owning a racing car prior to his heart attack but had never driven it and planned to sell it.

“I had been supporting a young guy in his motor racing for a number of years. He needed a car to practice with, so I bought a Formula Renault and a set of tyres for him to use as a practice car. When it came to sell it, the guy who bought it had a Formula Ford and wanted me to take that as part payment. When I took delivery of the Ford I put it on Trademe. I already knew I would never be a good racing driver, so I might as well move it on and get my money back.”

However, after his recovery, Robin decided he wouldn’t sell the car until he’d done a few laps! He has now done two seasons in the car. “I’ve ticked some boxes that I never thought I’d tick.”

One of Robin’s strategies to keep in shape is to walk around the track before he races.

“The thing about the walking is it tells me I’m ok. I’ve never had to use that puffer. I walk really fast and nothing happens, except I just get a bit sweaty. That’s not because of any problem, that’s just cause I’m working hard.”



Shared March 2019

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

Find similar stories

View all stories

1 Comment

  • Bernrie 14 October 2019

    Most of the guys with me in the Auckland cardiac ward in 2006 didn’t have severe pain during heart attack
    Many had similar to what I experienced at 5 am - a feeling of nausea, being very unwell, possibly indigestion or food poisoning, sweaty - crook enough to want to go to hospital