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When ‘out of puff’ means heart problems

Feeling fit and healthy at 67, the last thing Allan expected was heart problems. This is his story in his words.

In 2002 my wife and I signed up to join a tour of the Northern Territory in Australia. We knew we were going to Alice Springs and on to Uluru (Ayres Rock) so with the aim of climbing Uluru we started a fitness programme by walking up the Port Hills in Christchurch, regularly.

Needless to say we were quite disappointed when we arrived at Uluru to find the climb was not allowed due to high winds (just as well, as it turned out).

We decided to carry on with our walking up the Port Hills, but I soon found I was suffering chest pains and couldn’t keep up with my wife! Most embarrassing!

"The best advice that both the patient and their family can receive is to be patient and positive.”

My doctor referred me to a cardiologist who gave me a treadmill test which showed I was lacking ”puff” and an angiogram confirmed that my arteries were well-blocked up with plaque. I was 67 years old, a slight build, 72 kilograms and 1.72 metres tall – a non-smoker and social drinker only.

On my father’s side one uncle lived to 104 – an aunt is still alive at 99, but my father and another uncle died of heart attacks at 80. We are not sure how old the aunts and uncles on my mother’s side were when they died and of what causes.

Because there were blockages at junctions of arteries the cardiologist decided to treat the problem with drugs rather than an operation. This situation carried on for another four years with my condition deteriorating. I was still walking around the golf course playing 18 holes of golf one to two times a week but was using my “puffer” a lot and was becoming quite slow...

In May 2007, I was working in my garden in the morning when I had a terrible pain in my upper stomach. I went inside and sat down in a cold sweat. Bev, my wife, was away playing competition bowls with a team of ladies at Woolston. I rang 111 and asked for an ambulance.

While waiting for the ambulance I was lying on the floor thinking I wasn’t going to survive to see our eldest granddaughter – then aged 12 – get married!! The ambulance was very quick and took me into the public hospital in a very short time. It was confirmed I’d had a heart attack. One stent later I was sitting up in bed in a recovery ward feeling better than I had for some time.

However the basic problem of blocked arteries was still there. This was corrected later in June when I had open heart surgery and six bypasses (even the lifesaving stent was bypassed).

After four weeks in hospital I was keen to get back onto the golf course and used that as motivation to walk and exercise. As it was winter, I did “mall walking” up and down a mall – 500 metres in length.

The hospital at that stage had a swimming pool adjacent to the Physiotherapy Department and I joined a weekly class there. I found it marvellous in building up fitness and upper body strength.

I also joined the Cardiac Recovery Group in the Horticultural Hall. This was also an excellent course – it was educational and encouraging.

I was finally asked to finish the hospital pool sessions so I joined the Cardiac Companions Group which run both aqua and gym exercise classes at Burwood Hospital two nights a week. I enjoy the pool exercise classes in warm water – you always feel better after a good session’s workout.

It is now nine years since I had my heart attack and bypass surgery, so what is the situation now?

I still play golf – walk the course 18 holes three times a week. My handicap has gone out, but that can be expected with age and less coordination. We still travel overseas and I always note that I have a pre-existing condition for travel insurance. On the upside, the metal stiches in my chest do not “ping“ during security checks.

Talking about metal stiches reminds me of the following: about four years ago I had a niggle in my left knee. Our GP ordered an x-ray. At my next visit he asked if I knew that I had three surgical clips in my left knee? The vein used for the bypasses came from my left leg and where it went across my left knee must have bled and needed clipping to stop bleeding! I have not had any other pain since!

I try and walk when not golfing or gardening – walking is the best exercise one can have – it’s easy on the body and good for circulation.

I hardly think about my heart operation now – other aches take precedence.

To anybody who has just had a heart operation, the best advice that both the patient and their family can receive is to “be patient and positive”. A positive state of mind helps the healing and speeds up the recovery. There might be some pain for some time but it will go!


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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