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Heart bypass offers fighting chance

With heart disease claiming his four siblings as well as his mum, Giff was grateful for the odds of survival offered by open heart surgery.

By the age of 69, Giff had experienced what he describes as a series of minor heart attacks. While being hospitalised for an attack in January 2001, his doctors found some serious blockages in his arteries and a good amount of “rot”.

Ultimately Giff was advised that heart bypass was necessary and it was fairly urgent.

He was kept in hospital for a week until the surgeon was available “then away we went”, says Giff. “It was all over and done with in that period, which didn’t give me much time to reflect on what was happening.”

Giff had open heart surgery requiring five bypasses. With only six arteries in the heart “that was (almost) the lot re-plumbed” says Giff.

If he’d had more time to think about it, the magnitude of the operation might have felt daunting, but as it stood, Giff viewed surgery as a lifeline.

“Two brothers and two sisters all died with heart-related problems, including my mother. Age (in mum’s case) probably was to blame, but she still died of a heart problem.

“I guess that in my case I was fortunate. The timing favoured me having modern techniques… and a terrific surgeon. I think I was lucky having him.”

Giff says that his brother never got to have the surgery he needed, as he died of a heart attack while on the waiting list. With that in mind, Giff was even more grateful for surgery.

“Although you couldn’t have a more invasive surgery, the success rate was very good,” he says, and that’s all he focused on at the time.

Giff’s daughter, Janette, remembers her dad’s time in hospital as extremely stressful for the family. Alongside his heart problems, he had liver failure and kidney failure and had to go into intensive care, she says. At the same time, Giff’s wife was in hospital too, being treated for diabetes: “It was horrific,” says Janette.

But it didn’t end there. Just after recovering from heart surgery, Giff was told he had cancer... 

“I had 37 zaps of radiation treatment just a few months after heart surgery. I guess you become, well, not complacent but prepared to go along with the flow.” He adds that that was some years ago now “so quite a success rate”.

Fifteen years later, Giff’s in good shape and says he’s thankful for the years he’s gained as a result of surgery.

“I woke up this morning and that’s a good thing – and that’s the way I look at life now. You are given another chance and given a new lease on life. And you accept it the way it is and make the most of it.”

For anyone else facing heart disease or surgery, he’d suggest keeping the faith: “I guess the only thing is to have faith in your health providers. Feel grateful that we have got such a good health system to help you survive another few years. I think the only tip I have is to be positive!” 


Shared March 2017

Sadly Giff passed away of causes unrelated to his heart in 2018 at the age of 88, after living a full and productive life.

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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  • Bryan 21 September 2022

    I was 61 chest pain went to ER - I had quintuple a few days later at Cleveland Clinic.I had a rough go for the first few days …it’s quite a shock for you’re body to go through such a complicated surgery.I lost a lot of blood .I was discharged 12 days after to a rehab for a week to get strength back in my legs.I developed a pulmonary embolism and was on eliquist for a year .My blood pressure has been well managed and my heart recovered to a normal ejection fraction.. never thought that would be possible … they said I was cured ! I’m still in shock almost 3 years later from having such a life altering experience. I quit smoking . Hope I live for awhile but never dwell on it .Thanks B

  • Hreg 18 July 2022

    I just had quintuple bypass 10 days ago, not sure what the future brings.

  • Lewis 13 November 2020

    I had a quintuple bypass and 5 years on havent stepped off the planet yet.

    Great surgeon.

  • Roy 20 April 2020

    I had a quintuple bypass at 59 never smoked or diebtic active job mine was family history still finding it hard to come to terms with it