“I’m so happy to be back to me”
Despite stents and medication, Sue's angina was making everyday life unbearable. However, a change to her medication helped get her condition under control and her old lifestyle back.
Sue is and always has been an active person. Now 64, she's played tennis since the age of ten, been a regular at the gym, and more recently taken up golf. Fitness had never been an issue, so a couple of years ago, when she started getting breathless on the golf course, she knew something wasn't quite right.
"Walking slightly uphill on one of the holes at the golf course, I realised I was really puffing and breathing hard and no-one else was. This went on for quite a long time, but when I noticed I was getting tight in my chest as well, I thought I'd better go and see someone about it."
Sue’' GP referred her to a specialist who diagnosed her with angina.
"It all seemed to unravel quite quickly from there. I had the stress test and I didn't go very long on it, I think only a minute or two, before they stopped me. They told me to sit down and gave me the GTN spray in my mouth and I thought, 'oh dear, this is getting a bit serious'."
In July 2018 Sue chose to see a private specialist, who then referred her to the public system for an angiogram in Wellington. Following this, she was prescribed a range of heart medications to manage her condition.
However, the symptoms continued to cause problems. Over the next 18 months, her cardiologist continued to increase her medication in an attempt to bring the symptoms under control. She also had two angioplasties and stenting to improve the blood flow to her heart. But the symptoms persisted.
"Initially, I was quite happy through all of this, thinking we were going to get there in the end. But I just couldn't get on top of it. I was having daily angina, particularly in the shower. It was also difficult when I put my hands above my head, and I had a heaviness in the middle of my chest. It was an ongoing daily problem for me. It was quite debilitating."
Angina impacts emotional wellbeing
Sue admits the daily battle with angina had a negative impact on her emotional wellbeing.
"It was getting worse and worse and I couldn't get ahead of it and I thought 'well, you're just a very sick woman'. People were commenting on how grey and bent over I looked. After a while, day after day, week after week, it does get you down – not to the extent of being full on depressed but just the daily coping with it can be debilitating.
"Heart problems are not for the faint-hearted, excuse the pun! Basically, your whole life is affected and your partner's too," she adds.
As a former social worker and someone who has run her own business, Sue was used to being decisive and assertive, but she found the angina changed this.
"I'm used to making decisions but weirdly, in my own case, I couldn't act in my own best interest – probably because I was very tired and unwell. Greg, my husband, came to every consultation with me which was good and he spoke up if I forgot things or went off on another tangent."
Sue seeks a second opinion
The final straw came when Sue was diagnosed with pneumonia in December 2019, which made the angina significantly worse.
"I really couldn't breathe, I was grey, my lips were blue, my fingertips were all blue – I just wasn’t getting enough air."
After advice from a good friend who is a nurse and discussing the ongoing problems with her husband, Sue sought a second opinion with another private cardiologist in Wellington. He reviewed her case and results and did further tests, after which he recommended a significant change to Sue’s medication regime.
"It was a different type of medical management of my symptoms and ever since then I've improved markedly. I'm going back to golf and I walk the dog every day, and I can carry groceries – all these things I couldn't do before.
"Someone saw us the other day at golf and she said how good it was to see me looking so well. She said last time she'd seen me she went home and got her funeral suit lined up!"
Advice from others
Sue is very thankful for the advice from her nurse friend who encouraged her to seek a second opinion – although she heeds a warning when it comes to help from others.
"People have lots of advice to give you, but it's not always the best advice. However, if you do have someone like my friend, who is a senior nurse, then that can be helpful. She was the right person to give me the kick up the bum that I needed to go and have a second opinion."
Sue also took solace from some of the Heart Foundation's Journeys stories. Now she wants to offer a beacon of hope to others who might be having a hard time.
"It was very downward going for me for a good two years but now it's going up again, so I want to share that positive message. I'm just so happy to be back to me. I really am."
Shared October 2020