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“It can happen to me”

Working as a receptionist in a GP practice Wendy was familiar with heart disease and cardiac arrests, but that didn’t stop her thinking that it wouldn’t happen to her.

When we hear of people having cardiac arrests, we think, ‘Oh that only happens to other people, not me.’ Well, sometimes we get a rude awakening and discover it can happen to us.

My journey began, perhaps on the golf course back in September 2016, at the age of 72. I suddenly felt pressure around the back of my head, feelings of passing out on and off, and generally unwell. This didn’t fit well with me, as I had always played many sports, all my life. However, after being checked out at a medical centre, all was well, and I carried on with my life with no further symptoms.

A couple of months later, while holidaying with family on the Gold Coast, I awoke early one morning with racing heart beats. I tossed and turned and it finally went away. We walked the dog early morning as usual, and that was that. The following night the same thing happened and it took some time to settle. 

The next day we were excited to be leaving on a cruise from Brisbane to Melbourne with our friends to go to the Melbourne Cup. I was packing the last few things, when suddenly I collapsed. An ambulance and paramedics arrived, and I was admitted to the Gold Coast University Hospital where numerous tests were carried out. 

Of course, there was no cruise or Melbourne Cup for me! I returned home to family that same day, but was advised when I returned to NZ to be checked out with an echocardiogram, heart monitor etc., which I did. 

Further heart tests

In early March 2017 tests, including a treadmill test (PDF), showed irregularities, so an appointment was made for me to have an angiogram. The results from this led to a referral to Waikato Hospital, but just as semi-urgent, so I carried on with my normal life and waited for my call-up.

However, on 15 June I woke with a heaviness in my chest, no pain, but I knew something was wrong, so an ambulance was called and I was taken to Taranaki Base Hospital. The following day, I was flown to Waikato Hospital in order to have a stent.

This was a Tuesday, and suddenly I was told my procedure was postponed till Monday due to several urgent cases. My turn came and eventually two stents were inserted. I was discharged the following day and travelled home to New Plymouth.

I felt fine but took things quietly – most unusual for me!

Cardiac arrest follows

Exactly one week later, after dinner, I had a cardiac arrest and collapsed in my lounge. Wow! How lucky I was to have my wonderful husband there to ring 111 and save my life with CPR – something everyone should learn. Incidentally, I was supposed to be taking part in a CPR refresher course with the medical centre where I work, that very evening!

I apparently created a real problem for the paramedics, who had to shock me several times, and I was rushed to Taranaki Base Hospital by ambulance, put on life support for a couple of days, then into ICU for a week. I didn’t recall any of this but I was so well cared for by the wonderful staff and my family.

On 7 July I was once again flown back to Waikato by air ambulance. This time I had balloons (angioplasty) and then an ICD inserted a few days later. One day later I was discharged home again, with a monitor to be placed by my bed. How amazing this is!

Info is downloaded each morning at 2.00am and automatically relayed to the hospital cardiology department, to check for any problems (in which case, someone would contact me). Fortunately, I don’t seem to have any problems. I am checked at the cardiology department every few months, but all is well with me. I took things quietly for a while, but it wasn’t long before I enjoyed a more or less, completely normal life.

Return to work after cardiac arrest

On my checkup with the charge nurse at the hospital, I discussed whether it was wise for me to return to my on-call job (yes, at my age!) at a GP Practice. She replied, “Yes for sure Wendy, as you know your memory while in ICU disappeared out every window! This will help your brain to function properly again.”

How right she was! I so enjoy being amongst people and with my work colleagues. 

I attended a wonderful six-week cardiac rehab course with physio twice a week. The cardiac rehab included talks by the cardiac educator, dietician, psychologist, pharmacist, physiotherapist and occupational therapist. 

These too, were great, to be amongst people who had experienced similar happenings. I advise everyone to attend these sessions. 

Emotional impact of cardiac arrest

I don’t think anyone is prepared for how a cardiac arrest will affect each one of us emotionally. Of course, we are so fortunate to have the coordinated support of the wonderful Heart Foundation who feed us so much important information and keep us informed of cases similar to our own.

I feel so lucky to have Erin, the local Heart Foundation Heart Health Advocate, who is so encouraging, and helpful in our recovery process. She is always ‘there’ for everyone.

It is almost two years since this ‘drama’ began and I lead a happy, busy life and realise just how lucky I am.

There is no such word as ‘can’t’ in my vocabulary, and I only look for the positives.

Of course, various medications have been added to my daily life, but who cares!

I’m alive!!


Shared July 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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