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On a one-way track to a heart attack

Dave’s wife thought he was a ‘heart attack waiting to happen’. Dave thought he was ‘bullet-proof’, despite a high-stress job and unhealthy lifestyle. In 2016 he had the heart attack his wife had feared. Now in retirement, he’s finding ways to improve his heart health.

Newly retired after an intensive career, Dave has started getting back into his varied interests – art, history, and vintage cars. He’s also working on an exercise regime to keep himself fit, something he’s been meaning to do since his heart attack back in 2016.   

“My wife reckons I was a ‘heart attack waiting to happen’ in some ways. And she doesn’t mean that in a negative way, just that I wasn’t looking after myself as well as I could have been,” Dave explains. Looking back, he can see clear signs that he was heading down a “one-way track to a heart attack”.

Dave was working as a senior manager – a high-stress position – with a lifestyle that made it difficult to carve out time for his health. “I was getting fatigued and carrying too much weight. But I was shocked by the heart attack.

“I felt – I guess it’s that male thing – that I was bullet-proof.”

No idea it was a heart attack

Dave had just had a week off work with the flu, so he wasn’t surprised to be tired after his first day back. “I had chest pains, and I ended up vomiting, and I’ve never vomited like it in my life. They say that’s when I was having my heart attack.” But he bounced back, assuring his wife that he felt better.

Several hours later, about 1am, Dave decided he still didn’t feel right. “I vomited again, and again I still put it down to not being well the previous week.

“I decided I didn’t want to lie down for a period of time, so I sat up for a while. After about an hour and a half, I realised that something wasn’t right because the pain wasn’t going away.”

Dave woke his wife and she drove him to the hospital at about 3am. Initial tests revealed that Dave had had a heart attack. The decision was made to transfer him to Christchurch hospital immediately.

Helicopter trip from Timaru to Christchurch

“It was a horrible feeling in the park by Timaru hospital, being loaded into the helicopter. My wife was standing beside me but there wasn’t room for her to come, she had to drive through to Christchurch.”

In Christchurch Hospital Dave was quickly prepped and sent into theatre for an angioplasty, a procedure where a contrast agent is used to take x-rays of arteries in the heart and stents are fitted at any narrowed arteries. “Interesting situation that, because I’m anaphylactic to IV contrast. And so they filled me with steroids to counteract it... 

“The first stent went in good as gold. While they were doing the second one, I could feel this burning warmth flying all over my body, which was the allergic reaction. But I managed to get through it all.

“I was able to see what they were doing with the fitting of the stents, how they were moving it in. When they release the stents, they blow them up with a wee balloon inside your vein. They said I should be able to feel that, but I didn’t.”

Dave spent several days on the ward in Christchurch, recovering. His wife stayed with family, coming to visit each day. Dave’s son was at university in Canterbury, so he came to spend time with him in hospital as well, “so I had lots of family support.”

“They actually showed me what a stent is and when you look at it, you think - who the hell invented that? It’s such a tiny wee thing and then you look at what they do with it. There’s just a tiny wee pin mark on my wrist where they put it in and did all the necessary.”

Feeling better, but still a way to go

Back home in Timaru, it took about three months for Dave to “feel good again”, slow progress for a man who had expected to get up and go immediately. He pushed himself to return to work after just four weeks.

“I was concerned about my work, how they would respond to my health issues. I was away for a lengthy period of time on full pay, but there was no additional stress put on me, they were very supportive.

“I really wanted to go back, to know I could still fit into that environment again, just to know I was able and capable of doing it.

“When I look back now, I realise when I came home I wasn’t a well man. But in my own mind, I felt better than I had for a while. As the surgeon said to me, ‘Well, you should, because you’ve got a lot more blood pumping around your system.’ And I did, I felt a lot better, but I was still a pretty sick man.

“In hindsight, it was probably a bit early to go back to work, but that’s what you do. It was important to me.”

Taking care of himself

Settling back into his usual work routine – although reassuring in some ways – also made it harder for Dave to get more active and make the changes his doctors had advised, but he did make time to attend the cardiac support and information classes at Timaru Hospital and was grateful for their support. He also found the documentation and support from the Heart Foundation helpful.

“The specialist said to me that I can live a normal life but I’ve got to make that life. And he said I could also have another heart attack, but it’s about me making sure I take the best care of myself I can. And you know, I have goals to be around for my kids and my grandkids.”

With the help of his wife, Dave has changed his diet significantly and having reached retirement, he’s looking to work on his fitness.

“I was very much a chocolate biscuit man on a regular basis and now I don’t have any in the house. I’ve disciplined myself over sugar content, I’ve disciplined myself over size of meals. When I had my heart attack, I was 113kg – I must have been a chubby chap. I didn’t think I was that bad.”

Dave now weighs around 96kg, “I’ve certainly lost a lot of weight, to the point that I had to buy a new suit for my son’s capping at Canterbury University in December.”

“Every day’s a new day. I know I’m lucky to be here, and I want to make sure I’m here as long as I possibly can be. But not just sitting, but involved in activities and in life and enjoying it.”


Shared September 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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