When heart problems coincide with loss

Heart trouble has accompanied other life-changing events for David. But he’s kept trekking on.

David was working out at the YMCA when he had his severe heart attack in 1983. He was a fit man, who played interclub squash and went deer hunting.

By the late 1980s he needed a quadruple coronary bypass – but heart trouble was only part of the picture. At the time, David was coping with the tragic loss of his elder son. He had been missing for over two years before it was discovered he had been murdered. The bypass, he says, was probably brought about, to a large extent, by that family tragedy.

The offenders were caught but at the time of the trial, in Palmerston North, David was in hospital having the bypass. He discharged himself and flew down to the trial – not recommended recovery for any operation.

Despite the toll of these events, however, David found a way to move on with life.

‘Life does exist afterwards’

“After that, I always kept tramping, kept active, right the way through,” he says. He not only covered ground from Cape Reinga down to the bottom of Stewart Island, but in 1999 and 2001 took trips to Nepal where he was trekking up to 13,000 feet, with “no trouble”.

“We didn’t stay in the teahouses on route, we were under canvas the whole time, sleeping on the ground,” he adds.

With his wife, Beth, he travelled off the beaten track to places like Iran, Morocco, eastern Turkey, Burma, Pakistan, the Karakorum Highway, the Khyber Pass to the Afghanistan border, “Pretty intrepid for a couple of old guys,” he says.

But by the year 2009, tragedy struck again. Beth was diagnosed with cancer and David’s heart was troubling him again.

Fitted with an ICD

“It happened in February 2011, only a couple of months before my wife died in April. She heard me groaning in the middle of the night and I was whipped into Middlemore.” From there he was immediately booked into Auckland Hospital for an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator).

David’s GP later commented about the timing of the incident, saying he wouldn’t be surprised if “there was a little bit of psychology involved with that little lot”. Beth’s cancer “was biting at the end, and cancer is not pretty” notes David...

He describes the ICD as “quite a big hunk of machinery, about two inches in diameter which sat on top of the muscle…  it was quite a lump.” But that ICD needed replacing not too long after. David’s new ICD now “sits under the muscle. You don’t even see it there,” he says.

“The idea is, if the heart starts playing up and goes into cardiac arrest, it gives a mighty electric jolt and kicks you back into life. I, touch wood, have never had any trouble.” 

'I've still got things to do'

At 80, David still lives on his farm, with the company of his son [a consulting engineer], daughter-in-law and two grandsons who now live there, too.

He doesn’t go tramping any more, not because of his heart, which “I’m sure would carry me further”, but because of his knees, “which have got a bit sloppy on it,” he says.

He still drives himself around and does a “winter wander” around the South Island in his old classic Rolls Royce that he ‘trundles’ around in. 

“People have said I should move into a home or something, but I’m still on the farm. The management and running of the farm are in the hands of a competent share-milker, but I’ve still got things to do here that keep me occupied,” says David whose struggles haven’t stopped him in his tracks.

“If it convinces someone who’s had heart trouble that life does exist afterwards, well refer them to me,” he says.

 

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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