‘He’s having a heart attack!’

As a secretary of a senior citizens group, Jeet has been educating people about heart attacks for years. However, when he started to feel pain in his chest, Jeet didn’t recognise the warning signs in himself and delayed calling 111.

68-year-old Jeet has always been proactive about his health, exercising daily and eating lots of fresh vegetables. With a family history of heart disease and pain in his ribs, he’d also been having regular check-ups with a private cardiologist for sixteen years.  

In fact, just two months prior to his heart attack, Jeet was given a clean bill of health, when an exercise tolerance test (PDF) and echocardiogram (PDF) failed to detect any problem with his heart.

November 2017

“On 26 November at 10.00pm, I started to feel this gastric like pain,” remembers Jeet. “I never have gastric problems, but my wife does and she has an antacid. So I came downstairs, took a spoonful, started to feel ok, so went to sleep. I never even thought of heart attack.”

Jeet woke up again at one 1.00am with the same pain and took another dose of antacid. However, when the pain didn’t go away, Jeet’s wife called for an ambulance.

“She called 111 and they said to take some aspirin, so she gave me some and said ‘chew’, but I told her ‘I can’t chew, my teeth are upstairs!’ So, I ran up the stairs. I’m having the heart attack but I didn’t know and I’m running up and down the steps.”

The ambulance arrived and the paramedics quickly hooked Jeet up to the echocardiogram.

“When they got the first reading they started looking at each other and my wife was saying ‘what’s happening? Is he having angina?’ they said, ‘No he’s having a heart attack!’”

Speeding to hospital

The paramedics demanded that Jeet not move and stretchered him into the ambulance to take him to Auckland Hospital.

“At the hospital I asked the ambulance driver what speed he was doing. He said, ‘Oh, 160, 170.’ I said ‘Lucky my wife didn’t see the speedo, she would have told you to slow down!’”

When they arrived at the hospital, Jeet was taken straight into surgery.

“The anaesthetic guy came in and said, ‘I’m going to put you to sleep soon. Don’t worry there are two of us, we’re going to look after you.’”

Waking up

In the end, Jeet didn’t need to have a coronary artery bypass surgery, but four stents were inserted to reopen his blocked arteries.

“By the time I came out of it, probably about four in the morning, I didn’t feel anything. The doctor came in about five and told me that everything was fine. There were some blockages she couldn’t do anything about, but she said that medication would fix those.”

Jeet was moved to Middlemore Hospital, where he spent three nights on the intensive care ward, then a further two in the step-down unit before being sent home.

Once home, Jeet continued to struggle with chest pain and he ended up in hospital a further five times because of it. However, doctors decided his heart was not the issue and he is currently undergoing further testing to determine the cause of the continuing pain. 

Jeet stayed off work for three months after his heart attack. During this time he attended a local cardiac rehab class where the nurses helped him regain his confidence with exercising. However, when using his treadmill or climbing stairs at his work, he’s noticed that his fitness levels have dropped.

32% heart function

During Jeet’s heart attack, the blockages in his arteries restricted blood flow to his heart, which has resulted in permanent damage.

“Because I took so long to call 111, from 10.00pm to 1.00am there was no blood going to one part of my heart, so it basically killed it.”

Jeet went back to visit his private cardiologist to find out what had happened and what could be done.

“The cardiologist explained to me there’s a test which a lot of people don’t do, which is calcium scoring. I might not have had the heart attack if I’d had that test, but I can’t blame the cardiologist for that.”

The damage to Jeet’s heart means it is functioning at only 32% of what it should be, so the cardiologist recommended that he get an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), which was inserted in May 2018.

“They say that it will look after my heart. Every time I go for an appointment, they check it and show me on the computer how it can increase my heart rate, and you can feel it. Then they’ll bring it back to the normal level. It gives you confidence that it’s working.”

Code blue

Jeet had a frightening experience on the day he had his ICD inserted. Patients would normally be sent home on the same day as the procedure, however, when Jeet was preparing to leave, a nurse noticed he had swelling and bleeding from where the ICD had been inserted.

The nurse called the doctor who took Jeet back to the ward and wrapped a pressure bandage tightly around his chest, but the swelling continued to worsen over the next few hours, so much so that Jeet was having trouble breathing.

The doctor decided to change the bandage, but while the nurses were preparing the replacement, Jeet fainted.

“The nurse lay me down and I was gone. Then I realised I was on top of myself, looking down. By then the room is full of people. There’s three or four doctors and four nurses. They’re all working on my body trying to wake me up, doing something. One of them was saying ‘code blue’.”

The doctors are unsure what happened to Jeet, and after resuscitating him, he was kept in hospital for a further week so they could monitor him and ensure it didn’t happen again.   

Life after a heart attack

Jeet has since been diagnosed with ischemic cardiomyopathy (a type of dilated cardiomyopathy) and will continue to see his cardiologist regularly to monitor his heart, but they are not too worried about him.

“Generally, he says, ‘You are fine. There is not much of an issue with your heart.’ So that feels better that something is working. Everything just seems ok, except the unexplained pain. If that wasn’t there I would have been laughing.”

Jeet is fortunate to have the support of his family, colleagues and friends, who have looked after him during his recovery.

“Every now and then I’ll just sit back and think, why did this happen? My wife keeps telling me not to worry about it. It’s done. I can’t do anything about it or reverse it.”

For anyone worried about a heart attack and those who have a strong family history of heart disease, Jeet recommends asking your doctor if a calcium scoring test would be beneficial.

“Never underestimate a chest pain – let the doctors decide what’s going on. Not all tests are definite, and each can only provide guidance that only a specialist can evaluate. Get help fast to avoid damage to the heart muscle, because when the blood stops the muscle starts to die.”

 

Shared May 2019

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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