A dad's tale: research into heart attacks saved my life

Elgar family I’m Richard Elgar and my family is the centre of my life. But they could have lost me when I had a heart attack. I was just 36 and had no idea there was anything wrong with my heart. I’m so grateful that research (that at the time I knew nothing about!) helped save my life, so I could go back home to my family.
Thanks to research into heart attacks my kids have still got their dad

A shocking event on a building site

I was 36 and working on a building site when it happened. At the time I had no idea about research into coronary heart disease and the impact it was about to have on my life. But I found out later. 

My problems started with what felt like a letter box-shape bout of indigestion at the top of my chest. I’d had three days of taking peppermint and Rennies. But it didn’t go away. I was still doing heavy work – throwing around steel cables and stuff like that. The discomfort turned to pain and in the end I dialled 999.

Life saving treatment

The ambulance turned up and took me off to hospital – I left my lorry and everything on the site. In hospital they did an ultrasound and a blood test and told me I’d had a heart attack. The next day I had more pain and about 30 minutes later I was on the table being operated on. I had two stents fitted to re-open a blocked artery in my heart. I watched it going on. I could see the narrowed part of the artery – it looked like a chicane on a scalextric track.

I went home to my family

When I was on the table all I could think about was my wife, Helen, and our little son, Archie, who was two at the time. I was the provider and I didn’t want to leave them. But I was lucky. The treatment I had worked well and I went back home to Helen and Archie. Now I know that every day 530 people go into hospital with a heart attack. And, thanks to all the advances in medicine that research has made possible, most of them survive to go home to their families. But it was a different picture 50 years ago, because although a lot of people were dying of a heart attack, we hardly understood anything about it. Doctors didn’t even know that heart attacks were caused by a blood clot in an artery in your heart, or that high blood pressure and high cholesterol put you more at risk.

Researchers working 40 years ago helped keep me alive

At the time that I had my heart attack I had never given research a moment’s thought. But I’ve since found out that we only know about what causes heart attacks and how to diagnose and treat them because of research.The first BHF researchers made a whole series of breakthroughs in heart attack research, which help keep people like me alive today. They set up the first coronary care units – they were unheard of in the 1950s and ‘60s. They found that heart attacks were caused by blood clots, which meant treatments like the stent I had could be developed, and they made statins a standard treatment – I take a statin every day.

My family has grownElgar and boys

When I went into hospital Alfie, our son, was very small. He has grown up knowing his dad had a heart attack. He loves doing stuff for the BHF. He did
 a 40-mile cycle ride on his little mountain bike. He fell off a couple of times through tiredness but he just got back on and kept going. He wants to be a heart surgeon when he grows up so he can fix Daddy when he needs to! And our family has grown. Alfie now has a little brother, Charlie.

The future of heart attack research – and why it matters

Research into heart attacks is still going strong, to help people like me (watch this video!). It is important to support charities like the BHF who spend our money on the best research out there which has a lasting impact on families like mine. The treatments today were unheard of 30 or 40 years ago so imagine what could be achieved in another 30 years. 

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