How resolutions helped Edgar get back to peak performance

Edgar Poppleton

Setting goals helped Edgar Poppleton get back to the mountain walking he loves. He tells Sarah Brealey his story.

It was a New Year’s resolution that set Edgar Poppleton on track to climbing mountains again.

A keen hill walker all his life, angina pains had stopped him from climbing mountains for about 15 years. But in January 2012, he decided the problem had gone on long enough and resolved to find out if anything further could be done to treat it, and then to climb a mountain on his 78th birthday that year. In July 2012, he had a heart bypass and in June 2013 he achieved the second part of his goal. Now he says: “I feel brilliant.”

Aiming high

Edgar made his resolution after seeing several friends benefit from heart procedures such as angioplasty. He decided it was time to do something about his angina. “It felt like a pressure in my chest,” he says. “It was an irritant and an inconvenience but not something I took that seriously, though perhaps I should have done. I was prescribed medication and was offered further tests but the decision whether to take things further was left up to me.”

The crunch in my thought process came with my New Year’s resolution

Through his lifetime he’d climbed 54 peaks in Snowdonia, including all the ones above 3,000 feet. So it was frustrating for him to spend so many years unable to climb mountains because of his angina.

“The crunch in my thought process came with my 2012 New Year’s resolution,” he says. “Being an engineer, I thought, ‘If it’s broken, and can be fixed, then let’s fix it.’

“The second part of my resolution was to ascend Foel-fras, a 3,091ft peak in Snowdonia on my birthday, which is 29 May. This would prove to me that the treatment had been a success.”

Foel-fras is the 11th highest Welsh mountain. “I chose it because it is the closest 3,000ft peak in Snowdonia, and it’s the one I see every day,” says Edgar. “It is there in the distance when I am walking in the field by my home.”

Edgar Poppleton Edgar asked for further tests, which he had at his local hospital. He was then referred to Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, where he was offered a type of minimally invasive direct coronary artery bypass surgery.

This is a fairly new type of bypass surgery. It’s not suitable for everyone but, in cases where it is recommended, it can offer quicker recovery times. This is because the breastbone doesn’t have to be cut open and the heart can continue to beat during the surgery, instead of using a heart-lung machine.

Reassurance and recovery

Edgar is full of praise for his surgeon, Paul Modi. “I cannot speak highly enough of Mr Modi,” he says.

“He explained everything to me and was so reassuring. He described my heart in plumbing terms, which made sense to me. He drew me a diagram and he went through the risks of the surgery.”

Hill walking is my favourite sort of walking. You see our country from a whole different viewpoint

He adds: “I had the operation on Friday and came out on the Monday so the recovery time was much quicker than a standard coronary bypass surgery. All I have is a 75mm scar between my ribs, now barely visible.”

Although he wasn’t in much pain afterwards, Edgar says he felt much weaker than usual and had more trouble with his breathing.

But he set himself goals for getting active again, building them up over time. He started by walking up and down the stairs four times, then six times, then eight times. He also gradually increased the distances he could walk.

After his surgery he was referred for cardiac rehab, which he found enlightening. “Cardiac rehab was a revelation to me,” he says. “I didn’t previously know there was such a thing. It was very interesting because we had the lifestyle talks as well as the gym sessions.

"I had no idea about warming up and cooling down, and now I am much more conscious of that when I am exercising and always start off slowly and finish slowly.”

Read our feature about cardiac rehab.

Climbing higher

Edgar Poppleton The second part of Edgar’s resolution was always at the back of his mind. By the beginning of June 2013, just after his 79th birthday, he was ready to complete it. It was a beautiful day and the walk took him five hours, accompanied by his cocker spaniel Maddie.

It was 60 years since he’d first climbed Foel-fras at the age of 18 and, although the latest trip took him longer, it wasn’t by a huge amount.

“I am pleased to have done it,” he says. “Hill walking is my favourite sort of walking, especially with the views on a clear day. You see our country from a whole different viewpoint. Then there is the sense of achievement of finding a route and completing the walk successfully.

“Walking is great because of the spontaneity. It doesn’t take a lot to get ready – you can start straight away. All you need is a set of boots and maybe some protective clothing. When you are walking, you concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. It is a sort of concentration that is also relaxing.”

As for this year’s resolution, Edgar is planning another challenge to celebrate that he’ll turn 80 this year. “I feel I should do something to mark being 80 – I will certainly want to go up a 3,000ft mountain.”

Support from the BHF

Edgar used several BHF booklets. He says: “I found them most informative and I would recommend them to others. I am also grateful for Heart Matters magazine, which is very interesting and useful.”

You can order a pedometer, a handy device that helps keep track of how many steps you take (code 63174, £12.99), from our online shop, or call 0845 246 4050.

Related publications

More useful information