A lifetime of heart problems: Sheila's story

Sheila Davies has lived with heart problems since she was a child. She tells Lucy Trevallion how she's staying strong and living well.

Sheila Davies

Sheila Davies’ heart problems span eight decades. At the age of nine she developed rheumatic fever, which damaged her heart valves. Now aged 82, she has since had a heart attack, two heart valve replacements, and has atrial fibrillation, degeneration of the spine and arthritis. But, she says: “You don’t think of yourself as being ill, you just get on with it.”

You don’t think of yourself as being ill, you just get on with it

It was 1944, during the Second World War, when Sheila first became ill with rheumatic fever and spent months in hospital. She recalls that most visitors were banned because of the fear of bombing. “Only my father was allowed to visit as he was in uniform, and this wasn’t very often as he was stationed in Belgium with the Army,” she says. “My mother only saw me once in the six months or so that I was there – so it was a very emotional time for us both.” When Sheila finally went back to school, she still had to spend her afternoons on bed rest. “If it was a fine day, they wheeled me into the playground, I was still in bed though!” she laughs.

Support from loved ones

Sheila, from Barry in Wales, credits her loved ones for helping her to stay strong. She met her husband Ron in 1953 at a dance in a park to mark Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. “We clicked straight away through our love of dancing,” she says. “He was such a good dancer.”

I know people are worse off than me, so I don’t have negative thoughts

The following month she again developed rheumatic fever. “In those days hospital visiting wasn’t so easy, but he was by my side from day one,” says Sheila. “I don’t know if it was sensible of him to stay with me [because of my health], but he thought it was worth it. We married in March 1956. “I’m very lucky that I recover from these situations well, perhaps because I think: ‘Oh well, let’s get on with it.’”

Sheila and Ron enjoyed 28 years of marriage, cut short when Ron died from cancer caused by working with asbestos. The couple had two children, who Sheila sees regularly. “I think they watch me eagle-eyed, thinking: ‘What’s she doing next and can we stop her?’” she jokes. “If I want to do something and they’re worried they’ll come with me. They’re very supportive.”

Sheila Davies

Taking a positive approach

Her sister, Wendy, who is 11 years younger, had a stroke aged 55 and now has to use a wheelchair. “What have I got to complain about?” says Sheila. “I can get up and do whatever I want. I know people are worse off than me, so I don’t have negative thoughts. You need to be positive to cope with everything life hands you.”

It’s not about being grateful, Sheila says. “It’s about realising that you got over the last hurdle, so you can get over this too. You get better faster and more easily if you take the approach that things will get better.”

Strength to Sheila is...

“Enjoying life. I’ve always said there’s no such word as can’t. I learned to swim at age 40, and I’ve danced until 80. If you want to do something, do it. You don’t get a second chance at life.”

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