To paraphrase the words of Her Majesty the Queen’s Christmas message, 2019 has been a bumpy road, if not Annus Horribilis.
I had my first cardiac arrest in February whilst on a “boys” walking break in the Lake District and was resuscitated and defibrillated by my son Mark. This was followed by triple bypass surgery. We celebrated my recovery from surgery in May with a family holiday in the Trough of Bowland.
I had my second cardiac arrest outside our rented cottage and this time my wife Sue and daughter Anna did the CPR for 12 minutes before the paramedics arrived. I then had surgery to fit an ICD and have remained alive and well and eternally grateful to my family.
My heart adventures began in August 2018 when I had a heart attack (Acute Coronary Syndrome in new parlance) provoked by baking scones. This came as a big shock to me as a recently retired surgeon who thought he was incredibly fit (non-smoker, normal blood pressure and BMI, low cholesterol and a dedicated club runner with 10 marathons and more than 100 half marathons under his belt).
My angiograms were disappointing, showing diffuse coronary artery disease not amenable to stenting. My heart function and stress test were good and myself and my cardiologist agreed that we should continue with optimal medical therapy and graded return to full activity including (non-competitive) running. The first cardiac arrest came out of the blue. I felt fit and well and during the day had walked up the Old Man of Coniston, had been for a short run, and was eagerly looking forward to my evening meal washed down with a pint of Loweswater Gold. With no warning, I collapsed in the pub bedroom and luckily the isolated hostelry had a defibrillator on the wall outside (the landlady’s son had died with a sudden cardiac event previously). It would be churlish to complain that my son fractured my sternum and that the paramedics cut off my favourite running shirt!
I had a textbook recovery from bypass surgery and enjoyed the formal rehab classes at the Gym. We were enjoying our family holiday and myself, wife and daughter went on a short, early morning run and during my warm down, I again arrested (apparently with classic agonal breathing). On this occasion there was added drama as I broke a stone birdbath with my head as I fell, losing a third of my blood volume from a deep scalp laceration. Following this, I was fitted with a subcutaneous ICD and happily have remained “shock-free “ to date and have resumed driving and full activity with the exception of running.
To use a well-worn cliché this has been a life-changing experience for all concerned.
Although a difficult year for myself, in many ways it has been worse for my family who has had to witness the (albeit temporary) death of their husband and dad. On the one hand, I feel unlucky (why me with my healthy lifestyle?), but mostly I feel very fortunate to have survived against the odds. In particular, I am lucky that my family were there and willing and able to do effective CPR. My favourite run was solo, off-road, on an isolated hill with no phone, so again lucky that I had returned to base camp before collapsing.
I think this has all made us an even closer family unit and I am loving seeing my two grandsons thrive (second grandson Dougie was born between cardiac arrests). There have been dark moments for us all and my loved ones still have “flashbacks“. Perhaps, fortunately, I remember nothing other than waking up in the back of an ambulance vomiting and being generally uncooperative…
Initially, I was bitter and twisted and resentful that I would not be able to win the Vet 70 running trophies I anticipated. These feelings have passed, I have forgiven life and found again my eternal optimism. Time is indeed a great healer and slowly but surely our family confidence is returning and we look forward to new and fulfilling experiences (less exciting would be fine).
After our first meet-up in February 2015, I realised I was not alone. It was the first time since my cardiac arrest the previous year that I had spoken face-to-face with someone who had experienced what I had. This was also true for my wife, who also happened to be my lifesaver. From that meet-up, the idea of SCA UK was born. Since then, we have achieved a considerable amount, primarily providing information, resources and support to others in a similar situation but also raising the profile of survivorship and the need for better post-discharge care. We are starting to get traction in this, and with the formation of the charity, I genuinely believe we have a bright future ahead and will make a significant difference in the lives of many who join our ranks.