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‘Heart failure – a dreadful word isn’t it?’

Patrick could not believe he had heart failure – he was working well and feeling well. “I didn’t really think there was that much wrong with me, but they assured me there was.”

Patrick shows few signs of a man slowing down, though he’ll tell you that he is. For starters, he’s downsized the family property (a 90-acre block with an acre of garden) to something easier for him and his wife to manage. He’s also cut back on his passion – musical theatre – now opting to sit on a couple of theatre boards instead of directing and travelling the country with his shows.

“I’m nearly 88, I have to slow down some time, and going away on weekends to direct really wasn’t working all that well,” he says. There’s also his health to take into account. Seven years ago Patrick was told he had heart failure – a pretty shocking diagnosis for someone as fit and active as he’d always been. 

In earlier years

Patrick left the UK at the age of 21, initially to inspect milk on New Zealand farms, but he ended up meeting his wife here and making it home. The two of them ran share-milking farms in the Manawatu and Palmerston North while raising three children. But when his wife contracted cancer “it stopped things in their tracks”. After she died, Patrick sold the farm and moved away from dairy farming.

Then came the next chapter. After wondering what to do with himself, Patrick bought a food business – a franchise covering the lower North Island that made and supplied chicken rolls to service stations around the country – the ones you warmed up in microwaves as you bought them. Patrick employed 14 staff and had three delivery trucks – “a very good business actually”.

“But then I had a massive other change in my life,” he says. Musical theatre. The hobby he’d been interested in for many years took on a life of its own once Patrick sold his food business and started getting offers as a director in other parts of the country.

“I sold my place in Longburn and moved to Feilding and remarried.” With his second wife he bought a lifestyle block of 90 acres and went back to dry stock farming while continuing to do more and more work in theatre.

“As I got more and more offers, I did more and more work and used my home in Fielding as a base. Mostly I would work weekends, I’d go away on a Friday night and come back Sunday night, and then the next weekend I’d go off again somewhere: “I’ve directed all over the place.”

All the while Patrick kept fit, doing an “awful lot of exercise” including aqua-aerobics three times a week and plenty of walking.

So when seven years ago he was diagnosed with heart failure, Patrick was understandably shocked...

His main symptom was feeling out of breath – “that was the worst part, certainly no pain and I’ve never had pain in my heart,” he says.

“I don’t think I believed it for a long time, because I was feeling so well and working well, physically too. I didn’t really think there was that much wrong with me, but they assured me there was. And the medication, I suppose, would prove it.”

Patrick was put on medication and also had a pacemaker fitted. “My cardiologist suggested I would feel a lot better if I had (the pacemaker) in, so I said ‘Okay, let’s go for it.’ It was all done in Palmerston North Hospital and was all very easy and quick.”

He says he didn’t need to make any lifestyle changes at all after his diagnosis. He simply developed a habit of packaging his week’s medicines into daily dosages and just kept doing what he’d always done “under advice, of course, of my cardiologist”.

Patrick has been well-supported by both his GP and cardiologist who, he says, “confer all the time if I need a change in medication”.

Two years ago, thanks to regular monitoring, he was found to have another heart condition – atrial fibrillation (AF) – a diagnosis that left him more miffed than shocked.

Patrick says he’s never suffered from the usual symptoms of AF. “People I’ve spoken to tell me sometimes their heart races like mad, very quickly, and they have to sit down. Well I’ve had none of those symptoms.

“No, I don’t feel anything, all I feel when I take my own pulse is that it misses – but it’s done that for so many years.” Patrick never realised that that could be a problem, in itself. But on his doctor’s advice he has now added AF medication to his treatment regime.

Life now for Patrick

Patrick still feels in fine form and can walk for 15 to 20 minutes before he starts to get out of breath. He’s also stuck with his aqua-aerobics programme – “I think it’s very good for me to do this in the water.”

With his wife’s four children and Patrick’s three, family life keeps him busy too.

As for his pacemaker, it doesn’t bother him a bit – “I forgot about it completely”. When he’s swimming he can feel it under his skin, but that’s about the only time, he says.

For Patrick, heart failure has not been that difficult to live with. “Providing you’ve got good advice and good medication I think you can live quite normally.”

Fear of the unknown, however, does cross his mind. “I guess like most people with a heart problem, you’re always worried and a bit scared of when or if you’re going to have a heart attack, because they come on pretty quick without much warning, don’t they? So that’s a concern and it would be a concern for anybody who has the same condition that I have.”

In the meantime, his cardiologist recently gave him the ‘okay’ to go to Vietnam, but Patrick has his eye on more trips around South-East Asia and Australia.

“I love going to different places and I hope to do a little bit more.”


Shared February 2017

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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