Albie has experienced two heart attacks. His first occurred in his 60s and led to his retirement from a stressful job.
Tell me about your first heart attack.
I got these pains in my chest and down my arm and I felt a bit strange. I lay down and it passed. About an hour later, I felt it again. In the hospital, they put me in intensive care. After three days, they let me go home and - on that Friday night - I got the pains again, went back into hospital, and had a heart attack at 2.00am.
I was pretty shocked. I thought I had done everything to prevent a heart attack.
It went through to about six o’clock. At 8.30am on the Sunday morning, they did an angiogram and identified where the blockage was. The artery, which caused the heart attack, was completely blocked. They put in two stents. As soon as the balloon opened and the stent went in, the pain disappeared. It was a great feeling.
What was it like to be conscious while the stents went in?
It is quite unique. On the screen, you can see the wire going to the blockage and trying to force its way through, before they blow the balloon up and insert the stent. They had a bit of trouble getting through the blockage. That was the only part I found disconcerting.
Do you feel any pain now?
No, not after the second one. After the first heart attack, I experienced pain similar to an angina pain. That is, bruising around the heart. For me, it disappeared after about three to four days.
You believe you had angina leading up to your heart attack?
For many years, I got the same pains I experienced before my heart attack. I had them checked out many times and nothing showed that it was angina. I was doing pretty strenuous work and, at times, I would experience those pains. They were exactly the same as when I went into heart attack and when I had the second episode of angina.
After the first heart attack, were you aware that you may be on your way to another?
After the first lot of stents, I came out and I was fine. I was exercising and had no problems whatsoever. Eleven months later, I got pains playing golf. I took a tablet and it went away. That went on for about a week. It dissipated; then, on the Saturday morning, I found that the tablets couldn’t relieve the pain and I knew it was time to go to hospital.
How important was it to research your condition?
To know what you’re going to go through is very important. It can relieve the anxiety.
Was the cardiac rehabilitation course helpful?
Straight after the procedure, I was doing rehabilitation. I found it the most beneficial thing I did. Knowing that they were monitoring what I was doing gave me the confidence to go out and start doing things normally again. It was an absolutely critical part of the whole procedure that I went through.
My wife went with me every day. She got a lot of knowledge from the many experienced people who came and talked about diet and what to do if I needed help. I think it gave her confidence that things were going all right. She was able to ask questions and put fears to rest. It was absolutely crucial for her to be there with me.
It was six weeks to the day when I started playing a few holes of golf and building it up from there. After that, I recovered very quickly and was able to get back to doing all the things I was doing previously.
I decided to retire, after talking to my doctor. He said the stress factor - and I was in a very stressful job - is one of the things that you can alleviate from your lifestyle. It was the best decision I have ever made.
Have your priorities changed?
Yes, to the extent that my wife and I do everything we want to do now. We enjoy life more. We do more together and it has improved our relationship.
How did your first heart attack affect your family?
My heart attack had a great impact on my daughter, who is the youngest. But the boys, because they realise there is a heredity factor there, woke up to the fact that they had better get check ups.
Your wife would have had a lot to worry about.
My wife was very concerned and very caring. She didn’t want me to do anything strenuous. It was a very strict program, but I was trying to do a little bit more. She was very concerned and told the nurses at the rehabilitation what I was doing. She is aware that there is a chance it may occur again. She makes sure I eat the right foods. We have changed our eating habits, and I guess that is a credit to my wife. My biggest problem was getting away from sweets. You are allowed to eat chocolate in moderation now, which is very good. Chocolate, avocados and red wine - they are all good for you.
What about mood swings? Were you a little short tempered in an out-of-character way?
That went on for quite a period of time, and I found that a big thing to come to terms with. I was very short, very grumpy. It wasn’t usually like me to be that way, but I identified it as the tablets I was put on.
Are you still concerned about having a heart attack?
I think I know what's there now. I think I am going to be much better prepared and take action a lot sooner, rather than let it go longer than it should.
What advice would you give somebody who has just had a heart attack, or is about to have a stent procedure?
You are going to come out feeling better for it. The good thing about it was that I went into the operation and I knew they were going to be able to do something for me. The most important thing is to stay positive.
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