Reach out to others

Even though Trevor had successfully managed a heart rhythm problem for years, his heart attack still came as a shock. He found talking to other cardiac patients a great means of support.

Trevor had been getting strange sensations in his chest for a number of years before he knew he had a heart condition.

Despite ECGs (tests to measure the electrical activity of the heart) and multiple trips to A&E, a definitive diagnosis wasn’t made.

Then, in 2013, he began to experience more significant symptoms.

“For unknown reasons I started getting breathless just walking up the street,” Trevor recalls. “I could feel my heart going nuts, really pumping hard. So I went to my GP and he referred me to Timaru Hospital. I had all sorts of tests there and they then forwarded me to Christchurch hospital where I was given a drug that sped my heart up. I remember seeing my heart going at approximately 180 beats per minute, which is pretty fast.”

Trevor was diagnosed with supra ventricular tachycardia (SVT), a condition that makes the heart beat very quickly.

“We discussed options and it was agreed that I would self-manage the condition,” says Trevor. “For me it’s not life threatening, it’s just a bit debilitating. So from that point in 2013, I’ve self-managed it and had no problems. Basically, if I’m doing something and I start getting puffed, I just have to stop or slow down.”

Classic heart attack symptoms

Unfortunately, a heart attack followed six years later, in September 2019.

“I’d been feeling crook for a few weeks before, but I just put it down to being off colour,” Trevor says. “Then, one Friday afternoon I was walking out of the bank in Timaru and I had pain right across my chest. Classic heart attack symptoms. I knew the symptoms because as a former lineman I’d had first aid training. Pain in the chest and into my arms.”

Trevor drove himself to the A&E department at Timaru Hospital. “I was later told off for not calling an ambulance!” he adds.

At the hospital the doctors confirmed it was a heart attack. A couple of days later he was transferred to Christchurch Hospital where he had a couple of stents put in to open up the blocked arteries.

“The stents were put in the left side of my heart, but the doctors told me there were some blockages on the right side too, and that I would have to come back for more. A year later I had them put in, and then the doctors were pretty happy, so I came back home and just started doing things again.”

Heart attack a shock for all the family

“The heart attack rattled every member of my family. My parents are alive and it gave them a big fright. All three of my children and their partners, it gave them a big fright too, plus other members of the extended family,” Trevor says.

It was also a shock for Trevor himself.

“The most difficult thing to adjust to was the idea of having a heart attack in the first place. It was so unexpected,” Trevor says. “But I see now that what I’d been having for 15 years or so were actually warning signs. But no one picked them up, including myself, although I’d had my suspicions.”

One frustration he’s had to deal with is the attitude of some family members.

“The attitude from one small group of my family was, ‘You’ve had a heart attack, that’s it, your life’s over. You’ll be a walking time bomb for the rest of your life.’ But that’s not true. That’s so far from the truth and it’s not funny.”

Lifestyle changes

Aside from the shock, Trevor says making lifestyle changes has been the other challenge. However, the reward from those changes has been considerable.

“One of the things I’ve had to work hard at is managing stress. But as a result of that, my overall health has improved considerably,” he says.

“Now I actually walk away from people who are winding me up. I can’t be bothered with it. And I’ll have chill out time. It’s been easier for me to say, ‘Slow down, stop’. It needs to be done so that I don’t wind up back in hospital and go down the same path again.”

Trevor has also worked hard to manage his emotional recovery and wellbeing.

“Whether I like it or not, a heart attack is part of me now. I’m lucky enough to have survived it and had two lots of stents put in, but it’s always in the back of your mind. It never goes away,” he explains. “You wake up thinking about it, you go to sleep thinking about it. It’s almost impossible not to. The biggest thing is to manage that part of it. And I would imagine that it would drag you down quite quickly if you weren’t careful about that.”

Reaching out for help

Trevor says it’s important to reach out to people for support when needed. He suggests cardiac nurses, local Heart Foundation staff, and other cardiac patients can all be a great help.

“Talking to family members who don’t have any idea of what it’s all about can often be a waste of time, or even counterproductive, but talking to people, other patients, who are willing to talk is very beneficial,” Trevor adds.

“That’s why I’m sharing my story today, because I’d like to reach out to others and say, ‘Hey, I’m still alive. Don’t be a cocoon, break open, reach out and talk to people.’ Having access to people who are happy to give you simple straight answers is great.”

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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