Published 23 December 2021
Molly Tresadern speaks with nine inspiring people about living with a heart condition, sharing the tips they’ve learnt along the way.
In July, Joan Willett celebrated her 105th birthday. She had two heart attacks and heart surgery in her 80s. In 2020, she raised over £60,000 for the BHF by walking up a hill at her care home in Hastings four times a day for seven weeks.
Every day, I find I’ve learned something. There’s a wonderful world around you
She says: “I would advise you to go out every day and take an interest in everything that’s around you. However old you are, it’s never too late to learn something new. Every day, I find I’ve learned something. There’s a wonderful world around you.”
Every small step forward is progress and will soon accumulate to a big improvement
Vipan Maini, from Buckinghamshire, was a fit and healthy man in his 40s, until, out of the blue, he suffered two heart attacks in 15 months. Since then, he’s made lifestyle changes to manage his stress, and now coaches others to learn resilience. He says:
“Heart attacks and other heart conditions can be traumatic: you’ve already shown grit by surviving that. No matter how bad the current situation is, you can and will survive this situation too. Remember that where you are today, whether it’s your fitness levels or health, doesn’t mean that’s where you will be in three months’ time. Every small step forward is progress and will soon accumulate to a big improvement.”
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David Saunders, from a village near Inverness, was born with a congenital heart condition and needed several open-heart operations by the time he was 16 – which he’s dealt with through humour, by blogging about his experiences.
Find a group of others in a similar situation…That is the most important thing I can say to anybody who’s got any kind of heart condition
“Find a group of others in a similar situation, like I did with the BHF’s One Beat. That is the most important thing I can say to anybody who’s got any kind of heart condition, especially people in more rural areas. We call often and there have been times where members of the group have gotten quite unwell and we come together at those times and reassure each other. It’s been so helpful.”
Annette Dancer suffered a life-changing stroke at the age of 61. The former civil servant from West Yorkshire went on to embrace her “new self” after the stroke, even abseiling in the Lake District six months after she’d been in hospital.
Allow yourself time to rejoice in the achievements of the person you’ve become
She says: “If you can, rejoice in the tiny things – I remember the first time I took the top off the toothpaste without having to wedge the toothpaste under my arm and screw with my right hand. Those are huge achievements. It’s normal to grieve for what you’ve lost, but allow yourself time to rejoice in the achievements of the person you’ve become.”
At 43, Darren Goodman, from Essex, loved running, cycling, playing sports, and lifting weights – but everything came to a halt when he was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a serious condition which affected his heart. After years of treatment, Darren’s only option was a heart transplant, which he received in 2018. Now 49, he has learned the value of staying positive.
Positivity is the best drug out there
“Try to focus on the good side of what’s happening to you. For example, I’ve always been scared of needles and medical procedures. Every time I’ve had to think: this is for the best, it’s for my health, and it’s for the people around me. Positivity is the best drug out there.”
Ripon Danis was walking out of a London Underground station when he suffered a cardiac arrest at the age of 37. Strangers gave him CPR and used a defibrillator, helping to save his life. After he’d recovered, he reconciled with his father.
Just to try and live the happiest day that you can in that day
“It just all of a sudden happened to me, and had I lost my life, I would not have been able to sort out my issues with my dad. I just say to everybody, just don’t be too stubborn, contact people, phone them, whatever you need to do. Just to try and live the happiest day that you can in that day.”
Scottish-Italian Michael Lemetti has designed tartan for the Pope, Al Pacino – and the BHF. Michael has also lived with high blood pressure since his 20s, and needed a heart valve replacement four years ago. Now in his 60s, he says that talking about what he has gone through was key to his mental recovery.
Communication and talking is the most important thing
“I could talk for Britain – but it was difficult for me to say ‘I’m not well’. Communication and talking is the most important thing, whether it’s to your family, people in your cardiac rehab group, or anybody else: communicate how you’re feeling, whether you’ve had a good or a bad day. When you’re not well, you can feel isolated, and talking helps to take you away from that.”
In 2020, when the pandemic meant that the BHF’s London to Brighton bike ride couldn’t go ahead, Mel Bucknell set up an exercise bike to complete the distance in her kitchen in Westham, East Sussex. She wanted to take on a personal challenge, having been diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy (a weakness of the heart muscle that’s associated with the late stages of pregnancy or after giving birth) when she was 30, after having her second child.
I think it’s important to show yourself what you’re still capable of
“I’m quite stoic, but my diagnosis knocked my confidence. I felt a bit weak, like I couldn’t do all these things that other people were doing. By signing up to do the London to Brighton I felt like I could be me again. I wanted to prove to myself that I could take on a challenge like this. I think it’s important to show yourself what you’re still capable of.”
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