"I've got lots to look forward to" - Mike's story
Mike Keavey faced multiple heart problems, but he's loving life again after finding new interests and rekindling old ones, as he tells Rachel Healy.
Mike Keavey has been on a long and often difficult journey back to health. He’s been fitted with a pacemaker, which was later replaced with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), and has been diagnosed with angina and heart failure. He’s also undergone triple heart bypass surgery and later had a procedure to treat two more arteries.
The singer and guitarist, 69, lives in the Black Isle, near Inverness, with his wife Dianne, 46. With her support, he’s made it through the darkest days and is living life to the full, riding a new motorbike and learning to speak German.
It was during a routine GP visit in 2011 to check on his type 2 diabetes that a nurse spotted Mike’s heartbeat was very slow. This came as a surprise. He was referred to hospital and tests revealed he needed a pacemaker.
I thought it was only old men who need surgery, but it changed my life
Once it was fitted, Mike’s heartbeat returned to a normal level. But he started experiencing symptoms, such as chest pain while he was out walking. An echocardiogram and other tests revealed Mike had angina, but it also showed that some of his coronary arteries were blocked. In January 2012, Mike underwent triple bypass surgery.
“I can’t describe the feeling when you’re first told you need open heart surgery – I thought it was only old men who need surgery,” Mike says. “But it changed my life.”
He noticed an immediate improvement, but after a few months felt like he was slowing down again. Mike was diagnosed with heart failure and his pacemaker was swapped for an ICD (a cardiac resynchronisation therapy defibrillator, which can be used to treat heart failure).
“Before I had the ICD fitted, I was going downhill,” says Mike. “I was disappointed because it seemed to me the bypass hadn’t worked, but then I got the new device and I’ve been great ever since.”
Living with heart failure
Mike’s parents both suffered from heart disease, but getting to grips with multiple health issues was still a learning experience for Mike and Dianne.
“I was pretty doom and gloom to begin with,” says Dianne. “It came as a bit of a shock the first time heart failure was mentioned, as the term is quite devastating. But you find out more about it, then pick yourself up and get on with it.”
I didn’t know what to expect from heart failure
Mike was assigned a heart failure nurse, Mandi Smith, to help him understand the condition and find ways to live with it. “It was wonderful knowing I could phone her, because I didn’t know what to expect from heart failure,” says Mike. “I might get a pain, then I could phone her up and ask if that’s OK. She does an incredible job.”
When he started experiencing numbness in his leg while out walking the dogs, Mike called Mandi. On her advice, he returned to his GP to discuss his leg trouble. He needed an endarterectomy – a procedure where the inner lining, and any fatty material (plaque), is removed from a narrowed artery to improve blood flow. Mike had treatment for two blockages in his leg.
“I’m 90 per cent back to normal now,” says Mike. “I can take the dogs out for a walk without stopping.”
Mike says he’s feeling positive and that’s thanks to family support, his healthcare professionals and a change of diet.
“The family was really supportive – my daughter Gail called me every day from Australia,” says Mike. “During the bypass, Dianne was down at the hospital every day. Afterwards, she looked after me and took time off work. Dianne doesn’t like blood, so considering that, she did pretty well! She’s fantastic – the love of my life.”
He is very good at sharing his experiences to help other people
Dianne, Mike's wife
Dianne adds: “He’s been very courageous through all of his illnesses – although he can be a wuss sometimes! He is very good at sharing his experiences to help other people, such as friends who have cardiac problems too.”
Beyond his family, Mike found support at cardiac rehabilitation. Initially, he was sceptical about attending, but Dianne persuaded him to give it a go.
“I know a few friends who’d had bypass surgery and a couple of them said: ‘I don’t need to do that, I know when I’m better’,” Mike explains. “But you really get into it and you learn so much about what to work towards.”
When the course finished, Mike joined a gym, continued walking the dogs every day and does the odd workout in the house. He also changed his eating habits. He now eats fewer carbohydrates and makes sure those he does eat are wholemeal. “The weight started falling off,” he says.
Mike has now lost three and a half stone. “It’s helped with everything,” he says. “I feel better and I look better.”
Developing new skills
Experiencing health issues made Mike realise he wants to spend more time doing the things he loves. “It’s the beginning of a new part of my life,” says Mike. “I still play wee gigs down the road, but I’m much more interested in being out with the dogs and being with Dianne.”
Back in the sixties, Mike used to ride a moped. In 2015, he decided to treat himself to a motorbike and is now working towards his full licence.
I really appreciate everything I have
“I take it all around the Black Isle,” he says. “I even drove down to Aberdeen to meet my son Ben. I’m still a learner at the moment. Dianne doesn’t want me to pass my test yet because it means I’ll get a bigger bike!”
The couple are big Formula 1 fans and will be heading to the Belgian Grand Prix in August, combined with a holiday in Germany. They’ve made friends who live out there, and Mike is now teaching himself to speak German.
“I’ve been learning for two years and I wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t had my bypass surgery,” he says. “I’ve got lots to look forward to. I really appreciate everything I have.”