Making a stand for his heart health

“Try and surround yourself with people who will give you positive motivation,” says Arthur – a cardiac arrest survivor who’s had to make a lot of lifestyle changes.

Arthur was 42 when he first started having angina pains and tightness in his chest. He found it hard to breathe and had swollen feet. When he went to see his doctor, he was found to have an enlarged heart and symptoms of heart failure.

His blood pressure also turned out to be high and he was put on medication to try to control it. Apart from the medication, however, nothing else in his life changed too much.

“I was drinking too much and smoking too much and didn’t really take any notice of it.”

By the following year, 2007, Arthur was in and out of his GP’s office – and hospital – continually.

“Then it kind of all came to a head in 2008 when I went to the hospital because my heart was just really thumping…. I felt like my chest was being crushed.”

He stayed in hospital for about five days, came out on a Friday and was back in on the Sunday with more chest pains.

“And then, I think it was Monday or Tuesday night, I had a cardiac arrest and I was dead for like 20 minutes,” says Arthur.

Luckily he was in hospital and able to be revived. It was the event that changed Arthur’s life around, for good.

“Yeah, it was kind of like a wake-up call, I really had to do something drastically different if I wanted to stay alive.”

Doctors considered all the treatment options that might prevent another cardiac arrest, such as stents to unblock the arteries as well as medication adjustments. But in the end it was agreed Arthur needed an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) – a battery-powered device that detects when the heart is beating too quickly and helps reset the pace electrically, with shocks when needed (defibrillation).

But despite the ICD and the peace of mind it offered, there was no shortcut to recovery. In fact his heart condition had an impact on all the family. “I ended up having to move house, because I had real bad problems breathing and getting around.

“The house we were in, it was quite a bit of a walk up a hill to get into the house and there was like eight to 10 steps before I even got into the front door. That was a mission, just trying to get up and down the driveway, so we ended up having to park the car halfway down the driveway so I could get out and be level with the steps so I could walk up the steps to get in the house.”

Eventually, Arthur’s family had to move to a place with all-flat ground and no steps. There was also a ramp at the backdoor which made it easier to get in and out of the house.

Lifestyle changes followed. Arthur realised he had to change his eating habits and do more exercise for his heart health to improve. 

“I also found out, this is pretty much later on, maybe three years ago, that I’m a diabetic, so that was something else I had to deal with. Basically with my eating I’ve cut out a lot of fats and sugars and salt. I had to eat a lot more healthy and wisely.”

Thanks to his efforts, he noticed he wasn’t paying as many visits to the hospital but, instead, seeing his doctor more – an improvement, he says.

Over time he built up his fitness, and now walks most mornings. “And there’s a gym class I do through the Super Clinic which is on Tuesdays and Thursdays for 30-45 minutes which is all aimed at patients like myself who do have health issues and also disability issues. The exercises are just based around all our different health conditions.”

Arthur values the support he’s had from hospital staff and all the information he’s received on regular visits to the Super Clinic.

His family’s support was also paramount. A father to four girls and a boy, Arthur’s lifestyle improvements inevitably rubbed off on them too. When he was diagnosed with diabetes and had to cut back on sugar, his family had to cut back too.

“We’ve changed as a family. Now everyone eats healthy at home – if anyone wants to eat something different they have to buy it themselves.”

Surrounding yourself with understanding people is a big help, he says.

“It might be a bit hard, but try and surround yourself with people who will give you a positive motivation. You don’t want to be around people who don’t seem to want to help or understand your health condition, and who don’t really want to support you in any way.”

His advice to anyone newly diagnosed with heart disease is to look to the future. “You’ve got a second chance in life, just don’t give up, don’t go back to the way you were. Make a stand.”

 

Shared February 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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