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Making positive lifestyle choices

At the age of 37, Darrell went to the doctor with nausea, shortness of breath, swelling and sweating. That sparked a series of tests that led to open heart surgery.

Back in 2012, Darrell was short of breath, sweating and feeling sick, so he went to see his doctor.

He was sent straight to the hospital for tests to check on his heart, including an electrocardiogram (ECG), echocardiogram, chest x-ray, and angiogram. The next day, Darrell was told he had a leaky heart valve (severe mitral valve regurgitation).

To fix his heart valve, Darrell needed open heart surgery. But before the surgeon could operate, Darrell was put on a fluid restriction diet by his doctor and cardiologist, and a “reduction for weight loss” by a dietitian. At the time, he weighed 180 kilograms.

“When I started losing all that weight I already felt better. After that, they sent me to Waikato Hospital for my operation and they managed to repair the mitral valve.”

But after the surgery, says Darrell, “I went into what they call atrial fibrillation (AF), which is when you have irregular heartbeats, so they put me on a special beta blocker drug which started to eliminate it.

“Then one morning I was waiting for the bus to go into town and the AF came back. I went to the hospital and they put me on a special drug to stabilise it – they got me back on track and it is all under control now.”

Positive lifestyle changes

Heart disease has meant making some positive lifestyle choices, says Darrell. When he makes meals now he uses the Heart Foundation booklet which includes food with the Heart Foundation tick.

“I always believed in healthy eating and not eating a lot of junk food.” Now, he also plans to write his own sugar-free recipe book. “My mum made a sugar-free Christmas cake last year and it makes a huge difference taking all the sugar out, it’s a lot better...”

Darrell recommends that anyone who wants to get started doing more exercise for their health, asks their doctor about a green prescription.

“I do lots of exercises, I do aquaerobics and I do a lot of walking which is good for me. I know to go at a steady pace and to drink lots of water. It can be done, people just need to make the effort.”

Since having his operation, Darrell has found it invaluable to have the support of his Filipino girlfriend, Gemma. She knows all about the operation, and together, they have a “lovely wee daughter” called Jean.

Thanks to regular checks with his doctor, Darrell’s now been given the all-clear to travel out of New Zealand, so he is planning a trip to the Philippines next year.

Darrell’s top tips

Darrell has a lot of advice on how to overcome heart disease.

“A lot of changes need to be made, and it’s not easy to do but if you make these changes then you will have a better lifestyle – a healthier lifestyle leads to a happier life.” He recommends the following changes, just for a start:

  • Eat healthy and eliminate unhealthy food, such as junk food
  • Go sugar-free
  • Ask your doctor for a green prescription and do some exercise, such as walking, aqua-aerobics and swimming
  • Drink lots of water, it has no sugar and it is free.

“Remember to look after yourself and if you feel you are at risk of a heart attack, call 111 immediately and ask for an ambulance. If you are far from a hospital, a helicopter can be sent,” he adds.


Shared November 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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