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Heart disease, divorce and bereavement haven’t
dampened Jill Smith’s joie de vivre. She tells Sarah Brealey how
she keeps a positive outlook on life.
“There’s laughter and humour in everything,” says Jill Smith.
Having been through heart disease, divorce, the loss of a son and
the death of her ex-husband to whom she was still close, Jill is an
impressive example of the ability to laugh in the face of
Now 68, she rides a 650cc Aprilia motorbike, practises Pilates,
swims and is learning to play golf.
She’s a firm believer that a heart
attack doesn’t mean that life as you know it has to come to an
end and is keen to spread her belief to others.
Jill, who lives in central London, had a heart attack in
February 2007. She’d been suffering from what she thought was
indigestion for three or four years, although it turned out to be
“I was taking tablets for heartburn and I even changed my fridge
freezer, thinking there was something wrong with my food. In
retrospect it wasn’t heartburn but my heart trying to tell me
something was wrong.”
Her heart attack happened on a Saturday, a few days after
returning from a trip to Egypt. “I was struggling to breathe and
called the doctor, explaining my symptoms, which were like very bad
indigestion. I was sent to the local chemist for a prescription for
a stomach upset!” She managed to stagger to the chemist and back,
but feeling worse and worse, called the doctor again to ask him to
I soon managed to recover my old spirit and now live a really full life
I soon managed to recover my old spirit and now live a really full life
“When the doctor arrived, he took one look at me, got out his
mobile phone and quickly dialled 999. The next minute an ambulance
arrived and I was on the way to hospital,” says Jill.
She was taken straight into the hospital’s catheter laboratory,
where she had two stents fitted to
improve the blood supply to her heart muscle.
Jill had known she was at risk of heart disease because of her
very high cholesterol level, which
runs in her family, but she never thought she would have a heart
attack. She admits that she was frightened at first and was shocked
when she was told she would have to take pills for the rest of her
life. But she says: “I soon managed to recover my old spirit and
now live a really full life.”
Angina is the discomfort or pain you get in your chest when you have coronary heart disease. If you haven’t been diagnosed with coronary heart disease and experience chest pains, call 999 immediately. If you’ve been diagnosed with angina, sit down and rest, and take your GTN medication according to your doctor’s or nurse’s instructions. The pain should ease within a few minutes. If it doesn’t, take a second dose, and if it still doesn’t ease within a few more minutes, call 999.
For more information about angina, visit our angina page, download or order our Angina booklet, or call 0870 600 6566 and quote code HIS6 to order a copy.
Road to recovery
Jill was once married to Mike Smith, singer and keyboard player
from 60s group the Dave Clark Five. She was a racehorse trainer
before becoming a hairdresser to the stars, with clients including
Laurence Olivier, Richard Harris, Penelope Keith, John Mills and
Bobby Moore, to name a few.
Now semi-retired, she was due to put some lowlights in a
friend’s hair on the day she came home from hospital, just two days
after the heart attack. Most people would have cancelled but Jill,
who said she felt “fit as a fiddle” the day after the operation,
went ahead, although the friend had to come to her house. The next
day she even managed to fit three tiaras for VIPs at the Lord
She was told at the time of the first procedure that she would
probably need a stent in another artery in future, and this
happened a year later. But on that very morning, Mike, her
ex-husband to whom she was still close, died. Explaining what had
happened, Jill said to the cardiologist, “Will you keep me alive?”
but she turned down his offer to postpone the procedure.
The two procedures were a wake-up call, and now Jill tries to
follow a healthy lifestyle and keep her cholesterol level down.
“My diet is better now,” she says. “I try to have boiled veg,
fresh fruit and low-fat yoghurt. I have porridge or wholegrain
cereal for breakfast, I drink
semi-skimmed or skimmed milk and I’ve cut out cheese and animal
fats.” She also takes a cholesterol-lowering drug as well as
Despite all this, Jill is determined to live life to the full.
She recently abseiled down the side of a 540ft building to raise
money for the Red Cross, and one of her favourite pastimes is
exploring the countryside on her motorbike. She started riding in
1972, when she bought a motorbike from the lead singer of pop group
Mott the Hoople.
She gave it up when her son James was young, but has been a keen
biker for the past two decades. “A bike gives you speed and freedom
– you feel like a bird flying across the countryside,” she says.
“And in traffic you can be first away at the lights and get away
from the queues!”
Jill is determined not to let past events spoil her outlook on
life. “Lots of people think, ‘I’ve had a heart attack, I’m on
statins, my life is really over’ –
but it’s not. Maybe I am luckier than some.”
be lucky in the way she’s bounced back from her heart attack, but
she’s certainly had her fair share of cruel blows.
She describes the loss of her beloved son James at the age of 24
as “the great tragedy of my life”. James, who was a professional
diver, never returned to the surface from a dive in the Red Sea in
2003. A memorial to James at a famous diving spot in Egypt called
Blue Hole bears an inscription from his father Mike, which reads:
‘Don’t let fear stand in the way of your dreams.’ Jill says: “I’ve
tried to apply that to my own life.”
Her advice for dealing with loss is to not be afraid to cry and
grieve, and to confide in friends. “Rather than bore one person,
have a selection of people you can talk to, to get the grief off
your chest. And remember that one day you can live in the love and
the spirit of all you shared together."
Jill says life can get harder in your late 60s. “You lose
friends, health issues can occur, we realise we have less time left
to us. My advice is to try to build and keep friends, and be true
to yourself.” She recommends gardening, country walks, anything
rather than becoming a couch potato. Her parting words are: “Keep
going. In the words of the Dave Clark Five
song, which Mike wrote, you can still feel ‘glad all
If you’re over 40, you can have a health check to find out about your risk of heart disease, how to keep your heart healthy, and if you need any treatment to protect your heart. Ask your GP or practice nurse for details.