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“Positivity is a great thing”

Peter’s journey started as routine knee surgery, but turned into a cardiac arrest and eventually a triple heart bypass. It was faith and positivity that got him through.

Heart disease wasn’t unknown to Peter, in 2010 he’d received a stent for a blockage in a coronary artery. But in September 2017, he was more concerned about the state of his knees than his heart.

Peter had worked on farms in the Wairarapa since the age of 10 – nearly 70 years – and the majority of the work was hard physical labour. So he wasn’t surprised he needed knee replacement surgery. However, while recovering on the ward, a consultant brought him some shocking news.

The monitors had revealed concerns about his heart and Peter would need to be taken to Wellington for further tests immediately.

“I had a beautiful trip down in the helicopter, then they took me off helicopter and straight to the ward.”

The medical team began an angiography to get a better idea about the state of Peter’s heart. It was at this point that his journey took another shocking twist. During the angiogram, Peter went into cardiac arrest – a rare complication of the procedure.

Thankfully, resuscitation was successful, and Peter then spent three weeks in the cardiology ward in Wellington before being told he could go home.

The doctor came to me on the Sunday morning and said: “Peter, how are you feeling?” And I said, “I feel great.” He said, “Well, we’re going to have a meeting tomorrow about you because in the last few days you’ve improved so much. I just can’t see that we need to give you a heart operation. So I came back in the ambulance to the Wairarapa.”

Repeated hospital admissions

Peter decided he’d initially stay with his niece and her partner in town rather than return alone to his more rural home – and it proved a sensible decision.

“The following morning I woke up and felt crook. I got out of bed, and went to try and sleep in the big lazy boy chair. I was feeling terrible.”

Peter’s family insisted they call an ambulance for him and he was again admitted to hospital for a night, before being discharged the following day. Part of the pain was possibly related to his ribs, three of which had been broken during cardiac resuscitation.

Unfortunately, a couple of days later, Peter had to call the ambulance again and was once again admitted to hospital. This time, the consultant cardiologist at Masterton Hospital was concerned about discharging him too quickly.

“She said, “Peter, I’m not sending you home. I’m going to keep you here, get you stabilized, and I’m going to get you an operation.” I ended up being there for about three weeks.”

Return to Wellington for surgery

Peter returned to Wellington Hospital at the beginning of December for a week of scans and tests before his surgery. He recalls the visit from his surgeon at about 10.00pm the evening before the surgery.

“He’s got a big sheet of paper and rolls it out on the top of the bed and says, “Now, this is what we’re looking at doing: coronary artery bypass surgery, for short we call it CABG (pronounced cabbage). Cabbage trees!”

Peter also learnt he had a leaky heart valve and would need valve replacement surgery. He knew there were risks that came with the surgery, but he found both his faith and the consultant’s kind and humorous manner comforting.

“The surgeon said, “You’re in a bit of a mess, Peter. Do you think you’re up to an operation?” And I said, “Doctor, I’m up to anything! If I die on the table, it’s not your fault. I’m taking the challenge and I’ve got another fella with me, that fella up there, and he’s not taking me away they tell me.”

Then I said, “I’m in such a state, are you prepared to operate on me?” And he looked at me and grinned and said, “Peter, when you say it like that, I don’t suppose I can get out of it!” Amazing. It’s so good when you’ve got people like that.”

In the end the surgery went very well indeed.

“The surgeon did the valve and took veins out of my leg for the bypass. It worked perfectly.”

Recovery in Wellington

Peter then spent another three weeks on the cardiac ward in Wellington, where he was amazed by the wonderful care of the doctors and nurses. “When I left they thanked me for being a model patient. I broke down and cried.”

His faith also played an important part in his recovery.

“When I was in hospital, a church friend brought me some raw fish and taro. I asked if my name was on a prayer board at the church and they told me it was, and everyone was praying for me. When I got home I told my friend that I was back and that the doctors and nurses were just amazing. And she said, “There was someone else too that was looking after you.” That was God…it wasn’t my time yet.”

After being discharged from the cardiac ward, Peter spent another few days on a rehabilitation ward to help with recovery from the original knee surgery, before returning to the Wairarapa.

“I was pleased to get home. I am in no hurry to get out on the town or down on the farm. The cold gets my knees, I have a walker.”

Taking care of himself

Since his return home from hospital, Peter is taking good care of himself. He doesn’t smoke or drink and is watching what he eats.

“When I eat now I have small portions. I want to keep myself right especially with my knees. It is easier to walk with less weight. If I have a chop, I’ll have just one chop and a small bit of mashed potato. Just a small plate.”

He’s also keen to let others know that they have the power to change their health and wellbeing.

“I tell people now. I tell them, you can do something for yourself. We’ve got a lot of people here now who live on fizzy drinks. It’s fatal.”

With his faith and his positivity, he feels armed for anything. “I stay positive. Positivity is a great thing.”

Shared May 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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