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I am not afraid

Having a heart event is traumatic and you have the right to be afraid, but living every day onward makes you brave; believe me – I know!

My wife Gloria and I live in Richmond, Nelson. We emigrated to New Zealand in 2007, originally from the UK, where my heart story begins. 

At 27, sitting in the consulting surgery of my then company doctor, he looked over his spectacles to kindly ask me, "Did you know you have a heart murmur?" Not stopping for breath, he followed up with, "Not a problem, just take an Aspirin daily, that should keep it in check!"  

I had just completed a medical examination for clearance and despatch to start a contract for a construction company in the Middle East with a posting in Oman. I followed his advice, which I felt put me in good stead.

Hospital examination and surgery

Many countries and contracts later (33 years later in fact) I was in my then hometown of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, having a routine check-up when the doctor requested I go to Bristol hospital for a heart examination. 3 weeks later I was lying in Bath hospital, the proud owner of a bovine repaired mitral valve. 8 weeks in recovery and I was back at work a new man.  

2007 saw Gloria and I headed to New Zealand for a new life and retirement. However, residency in New Zealand seemed unobtainable for the feint hearted. I went back to work while all the documents and permits were sourced.  

A local Plant and Transport company in Brightwater, Tasman proved a very supportive and interesting employer for 5 years, which I will always be thankful for. The owner, who has now sold the company, had a heart event too and he was so good at looking after me and letting me have a lot of time off and then come back. He obviously understood the situation better because of his own experience and that helped me a lot.

Faith in people

Having been a Samaritan and trainer in the UK for several years, when I came to New Zealand, I decided to offer my services to the telephone counselling service, Lifeline, in my spare time. I am a devoted Christian and have faith in people. I have also been a volunteer for a prostate support group, and I started the myeloma support group in Nelson.  

I’m a big believer in people’s need to talk. We can be afraid – there’s nothing wrong with being afraid – but together we are strong because human beings need other human beings. For me, having faith was hugely important for what was just around the corner. 

In 2010 my heart repair failed leaving me in Wellington hospital to have a replacement titanium mitral valve implant. All went well until coming out of the recovery room when the monitoring equipment alerted the system. A blood clot was causing things to go wrong. Fortunately, an observant systems nurse acted swiftly and on return to the operating theatre the clot was extracted.

Heart support group

Having my chest cavity opened and closed on so many occasions, the saying ‘having a zip fitted’ truly applies. I managed to get back to normality and felt the urge to repay all the care and attention I had received. This resulted in yours truly becoming a Heart Foundation volunteer. I am still part of the team, albeit in a small way, running a Heart Help Group in the Richmond area.  

The group is currently around 8 or 9 people between 60-80 years in age who have all had heart issues in the past. We meet in a local café in my village monthly for a chat and a coffee. 

We are all extremely wise and experienced when it comes to heart conditions, mostly because of our age! We just want to meet with others so if they feel down or depressed, they can talk about it and the group will understand how they feel. If anyone new comes along, they don’t have to explain themselves like they do when talking to people who don’t have a heart problem. It feels like we’re part of a gang who all understand the problems we share.

Advice for others

My main piece of advice for others in a similar situation would be to talk about it, don’t be afraid to talk to others – anybody and everybody who will listen. A problem shared is a problem halved. We have amazing doctors in Nelson but there comes a point when you are on your own, that’s when you need to talk to a friend or someone who will listen and feel empathy with you.  

It’s important not to be afraid but it’s also important to say “Yes I am afraid” if you are, and then you can share that. A man who had a heart attack and was airlifted to Nelson needed someone to talk to and Averil West (Heart Health Advocate for Nelson) put him in contact with me and now we are firm friends, and he comes to my support group. He will tell you being able to talk to me made him stronger and he’s done the same for others now. Once you have had help then you want to do it for others, that’s what humans do. 

Having a heart event is traumatic and you have the right to be afraid but living every day onward makes you brave, believe me – I know!

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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  • Garfield 10 May 2024

    Thanks for your advice!

  • Lorna 29 September 2023

    Worth a read. The doctors explained their specialty in great detail, that everybody would understand.  Also what they hope to achieve in the future.