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‘The sense of infinity’

Auckland resident, Bill Harrison, was 62 when he started having chest pains while taking walks on the city's North Shore.

The elder-care home attendant knew his family history of heart disease so when the pain recurred, he quickly saw his doctor.

"Soon the discomfort was regular, even when I relaxed at home with my James Last easy-listening CDs," says Bill.

The procedure

Confident in his team of health professionals, Bill used a GTN spray to ease his symptoms until he underwent an angiogram and angioplasty.

"My doctor's a gifted diagnostician so was soon busy with a cardiac follow through.

"My appreciation of life trebled as soon as the screen monitor showed the blood flow normalise. First, we saw the stent 'self-drive' through the coronary network. Then it nestled in like a little metal tunnel. Within moments a main artery and two subsidiaries were clear after being clogged with plaque by 74% and 42% respectively."

Soon after Bill’s mid-winter homecoming, the same pain returned necessitating an ambulance back to hospital, but extensive tests showed no cardiac cause.

"Instead, the likelihood was my intense coughing and sneezing putting pressure on the operation site, which was still in recovery," says Bill.

Now two months later, this writer and lover of life, compares his new energy to a return of his "jubilant early 30s."

Family history

"My forebears had enjoyed robust health until their early 50s when they suffered from heart disease and cancer. My father Holman was the third of five brothers and was treated for asthma which proved near-fatal at 65. Yet, New Zealand medicine stepped in, allowing this music-lover to live until age 72. Only the post mortem revealed our retired architect’s coronary blockages."

Similarly, Bill’s uncles, Garth and Noel, underwent a variety of surgery from middle-age and so lived until they were nearly 90.

Now an exercise and health food enthusiast, Bill says "both uncles and even Dad, are treasured as our family’s longevity pioneers."

What comes next for Bill?

Bill and his Philippines-born wife, Elvie, credit 'mutual support' as the basis of their near-25-year marriage.

The couple is involved with a volunteer-run conversation class for new migrants at Birkenhead Library, highlighting newcomers' drive towards friendship and opportunities.

"It is often these new settlers who teach us!" laughs Bill. "It is heartening to play even a minor role in their self-reinvention."

The couple's main suggestion to others is, "Get your hearts checked. The colossal expertise here in our own country means there is almost nothing to fear. Even if further intervention awaits later, there will likely be even more surgical options than now.

"So for Elvie and I, the greatest gain from the journey so far, is the clarity ahead. The sense of infinity."


Shared December 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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