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Like a cat with nine lives

Jim survived a series of near-death experiences. He was pronounced dead after surgery 12 years ago, and he has been millimetres away from a deadly snake bite. So the news that his central coronary artery was 98% blocked didn’t faze him much.

“My wife keeps telling me I’m like a cat with nine lives,” Jim comments. “I’ve fought many extremes of what could’ve been life and death, but none of them worried me per se. I don’t think of them as near-death experiences, I just think of them as a learning curve and blessings I’ve received.”

The walls of Jim’s house are covered with tapestries, each one a testament to overcoming a period of ill health. “When we fall ill, we’re inclined to look inwards but we need to keep busy. I kept my sanity by doing tapestries, which now hang on my walls. Each tapestry has a story. The Last Supper is the one I did after my bypass.”

Heart problems surface

About twenty years ago, Jim became concerned that his health and energy were failing. He was referred to a specialist, and went through a series of heart tests. While he was doing an exercise test, the nurse – a friend of Jim’s – saw the read-outs and panicked. “She exclaimed, ‘I’m stopping the machine. You’re going to drop any minute!’”

Jim had ‘very severe’ heart problems. His central coronary artery was 98% blocked. “You only get one heart attack from that, and that’s the last one,” Jim explains.

“The specialist said, I’m going to spoil your Christmas because I’ve got a slot to do surgery and I think it’s important that you take that slot. He said it gently and mildly...

“I was in hospital five days for the surgery, and the specialist did a marvellous job, totally uncomplicated. He told me afterwards that he doubted I’d have lived another week without the surgery.”

Changing eating habits

After the heart surgery, and in part due to other health problems, Jim and his wife went vegetarian for two years. “It did us a tremendous amount of good, and was the start of a learning process that has continued to this day.”

Jim has become a big believer in eating un-processed foods, and has taken steps to wean himself off sugar. “My wife was really the instigator and achieved this when I was bed-bound due to a re-occurring back problem I have lived with as a result of a failed attempt to handle a fierce cow.

“Our mental attitude can change our taste buds dramatically. I was a big sugar eater, up to four teaspoons and more in every cup of tea or coffee. I used to excuse it based on the fact that I’m a high energy output person! My taste buds told me I like this, I’m never going to give it up.

“We’ve got to take a strong mental attitude, to take charge of our own life and recognise that we can change our diet.” Jim believes this mental shift, along with his wife’s support, is what has helped him to reduce his sugar intake.

Once headed down the track to type 2 diabetes, Jim says his blood tests are now virtually clear. Having gone through the struggle of making eating changes, he says the rewards are worth it. He credits much of his success to his wife, who went along with his eating habit changes. “She’s a marvellous support.”

Now nearing his 89th birthday, Jim still runs his own business and plays tennis several times each week. He’s also involved in a number of committees. “I enjoy them, largely because of the fact that through them I can occasionally pass on what I’ve learnt in the hope that it will help others.”


Shared August 2017

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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