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If it could happen to me…

When Kevin felt a bit of pain in his chest, he never suspected it was his heart. After all, he wasn’t just a bit fit, he was ‘really’ fit.

It all started while mulching rubbish in the garden and squeezing it down. Kevin felt a bit of pain but wasn’t “thinking anything about hearts”. Why would he? He was fit – “really, really fit”. Over the years he’d clocked up 19 marathons and done the 160-kilometre Lake Taupō Cycle Challenge four times, so by anyone’s measure he was in good shape.

But after that first bit of pain in the garden, heading out on his bike was more of a struggle. “There was a bit of pain going into the wind, so I turned (the bike) around and, being smart, went with the wind.”

A couple of days later, he hit his “first real bad patch” when trying to bike home from work. “I was on day shift and it was a headwind home, I nearly got off and walked but I didn’t, and then I was about 10 minutes late getting home.”

When his wife pointed out he was late and he replied “yeah, I only just made it”, she rang the doctor for an appointment and was advised to get Kevin straight to hospital.

Once at hospital, Kevin had a number of tests done but these didn’t show the whole story, he says. “Because once I sat down or laid quietly on the bed, I felt good as gold.” It was only the next day, when Kevin had a treadmill test, that the effect on his heart became clearer. He was kept in hospital for a week, and then flown to Waikato Hospital for an angiogram.

Three stents needed

An angiogram showed some blockages in Kevin’s arteries, so three stents were inserted. “So that was alright, came home, wasn’t too bad.”

It wasn’t long, however, before the pain came back – this time Kevin felt it while walking his dog.

He went back for a check-up and eventually back to the treadmill. “I remember the doctor saying ‘oh that’s a positive result’ or something. I didn’t know if that was ‘positive good’ or ‘positive bad’ – but it was positive bad so I ended up back at Waikato...”

Another angiogram found that Kevin had a blockage between two of the stents he’d had put in. “There was a little gap and so they put a stent in there. And there was another little bit – not in the main artery but in the little side one – and they put one in there. So I got two more stents.”

Kevin was relieved that the stents were inserted via his wrists this time round. “The first time, they went in the groin, which makes a bloody great mess because they can’t stop it bleeding afterwards.”

After the procedure, he was shown some ‘before and after’ shots of his arteries that his specialist put up on the screen. In the first image he could see where the artery started to narrow “so that was like the blockage”, but once the stent had gone in “you could see it was one nice size all the way through”.

Life now for Kevin

Thanks to all five stents, Kevin now feels “pretty well”. His heart problems, he has learnt, were the result of high blood pressure which appears to run in his family.

He says his cholesterol had been checked from time to time, and it was never very high. “But it turns out now that they tell you the good and the bad (cholesterol), so even though it wasn’t high overall, the bad one was still higher than the good one, and that seemed to be the difference,” says Kevin.

Medication now keeps his blood pressure under control but – on the flipside – it prevents him from cycling as much as he used to. “Because I take beta blockers for blood pressure, that stops your heart picking up speed so I couldn’t probably bike up a hill or anything.”

He explains that during exercise, the heart rate normally “jumps straight up and goes flat-stick” until the exercise is finished, but in his case his heart rate no longer does that. “Mine will only do about 50-something (beats per minute) and that’s it.”

Some of the other changes he’s noticed are due to “old age” in general, he says.

His advice to others would be to have their cholesterol and blood pressure checked, as sometimes there is no other evidence of a problem. He says with being fit, eating well and having been told his cholesterol was okay, he – like many others – never suspected there’d be anything wrong with his heart.


Shared October 2016

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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