Your letters

Our readers share their stories of living with heart conditions and their views on everything from the progress of medical science to cardiac rehabilitation.

Tricycle fanA silhouette of a tricycle

I was delighted to read the Star Letter from Ted Clark in your Summer 2016 issue of Heart Matters about the benefits he gets from his electrically assisted cycle. I am also a keen tricycle rider, though mine is manually powered, as the local area is quite flat and a motor isn’t necessary. I no longer have the balance for a bike, but I love my trike, which is so much easier for me to ride.

I have written many, many letters to publications about the health benefits of riding a tricycle for those who cannot handle a bike. Sadly not a single one has been published (although I’ve had many published on other topics). It does seem as if people are embarrassed to mention trikes when it comes to cycling. They aren’t just for cranks or children, but are a wonderfully safe and stable form of transport. I’ve developed severe arthritis in my hip and my trike is my lifeline.

It does seem as if people are embarrassed to mention trikes when it comes to cycling. They aren’t just for cranks or children, but are a wonderfully safe and stable form of transport.

My weekly shopping comes home on the back of my trike, and I use it for all my local errands and visits. My nearest bus stop is too far for me to walk to easily, so it’s a no-brainer. It gives me my much needed daily exercise.

Every week when I am out and about someone asks me about my trike and where they can buy one, but very few actually seem to follow this through. I’m one of just three ‘trikists’ in my town. They really do deserve to be more popular.

Thanks for a great magazine.

Andrea McCulloch, Newton Aycliffe, County Durham

I've been given a second chance 

In July 2007, aged 55, I received coronary artery bypass grafting to bypass two completely blocked arteries. Seven weeks earlier I didn’t feel unwell, but thought that five days of heartburn was unusual, so went off to the doctor who organised a treadmill test and was referred for an angiogram. The consultant calmly informed me that I needed a twin (possibly triple) bypass by open heart surgery. All went well thanks to the amazing team. The recovery plan followed and I was back to work after 12 weeks.

What I’d like to say is: don’t feel afraid to try things after your operations. Keep your spirits high and surround yourself with people who will give you a boost. Finally, when you wake up every day, be grateful that you’ve been given a second chance.

Don’t feel afraid to try things after your operations. Keep your spirits high and surround yourself with people who will give you a boost.

I slowly ventured back into exercise with football, swimming and walking, then as the years went by and I felt so lucky, I started bigger tasks. These included walking the Birmingham Half Marathon with my son, being the support driver for a team undertaking the three peaks challenge in 24 hours, and this last weekend I was the support driver for my son and his mates for the coast to coast cycle route.

Keep up the good work and research, Heart Matters and BHF.

Graham Skinner, Ulverston, Cumbria

Learning from my parents

My grandfather and father had long-term heart problems. Neither was physically active, both smoked and enjoyed a stodgy east European diet. They died from heart problems even though they had heart bypass surgery and support from GPs.

I decided to learn from their experiences and changed my lifestyle about 15 years ago. I had stopped smoking years before and now changed my diet to be more Mediterranean, and also started to walk more and bought another bicycle.

I recently had a health check-up, as I retired. I was delighted to be told that, although I am now 67 years old, my heart is aged about 50 condition-wise! There are many ways to learn from your parents’ example!

Philip Silverton, Harrow

Reader’s tip

Jack Chisnall mentioned in his inspiring article (Summer 2016, page 14) that he breaks a lot of glassware due to problems with his hands. I have found using colourful plastic picnic dishes very helpful.

Sharon

Determination

I am nearly 78 years old, and was born in 1938 as a very sick baby. The doctor kept telling my mum that I had asthma. I did not attend school very often and this illness went on until I was about 11 years old. Then for three years I was able to be like other girls, taking part in all the activities in school. It did not last long though. When I was 14 years old I could hardly walk or breathe properly.

I had the operation that saved my life...and I was able to have two daughters.

I was due to leave school in 1953, so we all had to see the school doctor, who detected something was wrong. For the next two months, I was going through lots of tests to determine what was wrong with me. After my mother gave the doctors all the medical information, they informed us that I had a hole in the heart! I had been born with it.

On 6 May 1953 I had the operation that saved my life. I am still here in 2016, and I was able to have two daughters. My mother was a lovely lady and naturally determined to keep me alive. I am so grateful to her, for all she did for me.

Marion Hobbins, Prestatyn, Denbighshire

Research interest

I receive Heart Matters regularly and the information is always very much of interest. In the Summer issue, I found the article about Dr Moggridge’s work on heart valve research exciting and most interesting. His photograph shows a young man, confident in what he is doing – very calm and, I’m sure, a great team leader. Super!

Mrs Irene Latham, Holland-on-Sea, Essex

Lifestyle improvements

I have been receiving your magazine for several years now, following my father’s death from a massive heart attack.

Yesterday I had an angiogram and received the news that I will need a stent shortly. I can’t tell you enough how useful and interesting I have found the magazines. With careful eating and exercise I have reduced my cholesterol, from 6.7 to 5.1, and my weight. I will soon be on statins, which I am somewhat wary of, but the thought of resuming hiking (I am 70 by the way) without discomfort means I can also consider volunteering for the BHF.

I have not been able to donate money so I donate clothing, bric-a-brac (even TVs) and furniture as often as I can. Thank you again for all the helpful advice which I am able to pass on to my family too.

Elaine Andrews, Corfe Castle, Dorset

Thanks for making me feel good about my heart surgery scar

Bride and groom with parents

Thank you for the article that changed my life (Mark of strength). I had a replacement of one of my heart valves, with the best treatment at my local NHS hospital. I was very conscious of my scar, as my youngest son was getting married. It took a chaotic few months to find my outfit; as mother of the groom it had to be right.

I was still thinking about my scar until in Heart Matters there were three fabulous ladies all thinking the same as me about their scars. After reading the article, I immediately altered my ideas. The day went to plan and a brilliant time was had by all.

My weight is my next thing to tackle. I’ve just seen the eatwell plate, which will help me.

I love Heart Matters; it always gives me a boost. Just remember – wrinkles mean you laughed, grey hair means you cared, and scars mean you lived. Keep smiling.

Linda Plews, Atwick, Yorkshire

Back on a bike - at 98

Gladys Grimstead, 98, on a bike I’m writing to tell you about my mother, Gladys Grimstead, who at the age of 98 is still enjoying new challenges. A couple of years ago you were kind enough to feature her on the cover of Heart Matters with an article on her love of t’ai chi.

Lately she has joined a local group called Wheels for All, which provides adapted bikes for anyone with limited mobility, from age-related loss of balance to very severe disabilities.

From the age of six, Mum always had a bicycle and was very unhappy when, at 92 years old, it was decided that it was no longer safe for her to continue riding.

With Wheels for All she is delighted to be able to take up her favourite activity again and happily rides around the local park on a bright red tricycle. She is getting faster and more adventurous every week.

It goes to show that exercise and new projects can be the secret to a long and happy life.

Gill Stallard, Portsmouth, Hampshire

Help and support

I had a real wake-up call as a 53-year-old, overweight woman with high blood pressure. I thought I could ‘get away with it’ as I’m so busy at work or am commuting.

However, having tried to come off my blood pressure medication (you should only do this with your doctor’s supervision), then my blood pressure rising to scary heights and feeling as though a heart attack was imminent, I realised I needed to take urgent action. 

Dad gave me your magazine. I now see that I am not alone

That’s when dad gave me your magazine. I now see that I am not alone and that there are many similar stories out there, plus plenty of help and support. 

My recent shock, coupled with your excellent Jan/Feb 2016 magazine, has given me the impetus to really make a change this year, to lose two stone and to get back into sport.

In the 80s and 90s I was a total gym-bunny, took dance classes and have always played tennis on and off, so I’m not sure how I find myself here – perhaps other middle-aged women feel the same way. 

My first step will be a game of tennis with my dad, who’s fitter than me at 80. He still plays every week – a good role model, I feel!

Cheryl Gaydon Chilton, Worthing, West Sussex

Tips for health

I just wanted to say I very much enjoy Heart Matters. I was born with a weak heart and was quite obese when I was younger. This made everyday struggles a bit difficult. Reading your magazine has given me the confidence to do something about it.

I’ve taken up a lot of exercise and do activities such as cycling, football, swimming and I am also a member of Parkrun. The aim is to improve my health and lose some weight. I have lost weight already, so I guess I am on track. Thank you for your advice and useful tips.

Adnan Mirza, Shipley, Bradford

A heart-shaped potatoLast year I began subscribing to Heart Matters. After reading about the health benefits of growing fruit and vegetables, my husband and I decided to start growing our own produce.

We have experienced many benefits from the fresh air and exercise. Imagine our surprise when we dug up this small heart-shaped potato, which seemed to be symbolic of our new healthy eating and exercise regime.

Christine Cardy, Felixstowe, Suffolk

Alive and well

I was interested in the story of Rocco Parsley in Alive, in Heart Matters Jan/Feb 2016 issue. My son had exactly the same condition – transposition of the great arteries. The surgery was called the Mustard Operation in 1980 and they had only been doing it for about 15 years.

They only found out he had this condition a few hours after the birth when he went bluey-purple. He was taken to Myrtle Street Children’s Hospital, Liverpool, the day he was born, but he had to wait till he was 14 months old for his heart surgery.

The operation hadn’t been perfected and was done the opposite way around. It can’t be done again, and my son, now 36, still has check-ups in Liverpool. It is good to know things have moved on, as he was so poorly during that time.

Barbara Nuttall, Bolton, Lancs

Walking works

Following your feature on walking (Walk this way, Jan/Feb 2016), I wanted to further endorse its value. I suffer from high blood pressure and have been taking medication for it since 2003 at age 53.

Walking with a dogAt my annual review, my GP will adjust the medication if needed, and a couple of years ago we discussed statins. At that time I had high cholesterol. I tried dieting, but that didn’t work very well.

However, just over a year ago my wife and I decided we’d get another dog – we used to have a black labrador – and we got a German shorthaired pointer. These dogs need a lot of exercise, at least three walks a day – sometimes we’d walk up to eight miles in a single session, and he still wasn’t tired!

Over the last year my cholesterol has gone down from 5.9 to 5.49, and my blood pressure has also dropped a bit and is much more stable over a 24-hour period at 113/78.

Walking is an excellent exercise, and my experience shows the benefits. I’d be delighted if others were to benefit in the same way.

Paul Craddock, St Albans, Herts

I was delighted to see that geocaching was suggested as a good walking activity. I can thoroughly recommend this as it provides not only walking exercise, but an interesting hobby.

You only need to walk as far as is comfortable, and as you are stopping and starting, it’s not too strenuous. There is excitement in searching and finding, and the walks take you to many truly interesting places.

Ruth Herd, West Linton, Scotland

The big thank you

I had to have an ICD fitted... I turned to your Heart Matters Helpline in desperation. I can’t thank you enough. I am feeling a lot better now and I know you are on the end of the phone if I need you.

Andrea Bristow, Colyton, Devon

Comments online

Andrew McDonald, our Jan/Feb 2016 cover star, lost confidence when he was told he had atrial fibrillation, but a lifelong dream of flying a Spitfire got him back on track. Here are your thoughts from Facebook:

  • I had a massive heart attack on 29 September. I’m doing well, but mentally can’t get my head around the fact it happened. After reading about others, I don’t feel quite so alone. Good luck and God bless you all. Brenda Sumner
  • I experienced exactly the same thing, and also I have an enlarged heart. But I keep going somehow and I work as a gardener and swim half a mile or more in my local pool every weekday morning (I’m 49). So let’s keep going old son! Tony Smith

We also shared Maria Davey’s story. Born with tetralogy of Fallot, she took up swimming to get in shape for surgery. You said:

  • Well done Maria, you should be super proud of yourself! 
  • I had transposition of the great arteries when born, surgery at five months, open heart surgery at eight months and then again in 2007 with a pacemaker put in too. I’m massively proud of my war wounds! I have gone on to have my own little girl who is completely healthy. I’m also a keen swimmer, doing the 5K swimathon in March, can’t wait! Hanna Coburn
  • My four-year-old son is facing his second heart surgery so reading this is inspirational! Gavin Hookham
  • Well done! This gives me hope for my tetralogy of Fallot baby. All I worry about is what he won’t do – I forget the amazing things he probably will do. Kelly-Marie Smith-Milson

Help from Heart Matters

I just wanted to say I very much enjoy the issues of Heart Matters. I am 46. When I was 44, I had to be fitted with a pacemaker. I found life hard to adjust to after my implant and still do some days, but reading your magazine helps me and makes me realise I am not alone.

So THANK YOU and keep up the good work!  

Katrina Parker, Bury, Lancashire

Gaining by losing

I was really interested in the article Fat chance of weight loss. The odds surprised me. 22 months ago I weighed 147kg, but I am only 1.5m tall – or small!

Our local practice nurse asked if I would like to participate in a survey lasting two years.

The first 12 months I went to Weight Watchers, then I was on my own, to see if I could keep off the weight. The survey finished in November and I now weigh in at 103kg. My goal is to reach 90kg, which was my weight when I played rugby many moons ago.

I had a pacemaker fitted 15 months ago, after three heart attacks. Without the weight I lost, I doubt they would have done the procedure. Since the weight loss, I feel so much better – not only physically, the confidence regained has been immeasurable.

While having cardiac rehab, I found Heart Matters. I cannot thank enough all the staff at the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen hospitals for the care they gave me.

Keep doing what you are doing with Heart Matters. It’s a boost in itself.

RJ Roberts, Liverpool

My operation experience

I thought I would write and tell you about my major open heart operation last year on 11 November 2014 at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge. My first ever operation had to be major open heart surgery for a new mitral valve and staying in hospital for 11 days.

Heart Matters is a good magazine with lots of helpful information

Naturally, I was very anxious, but my wonderful cardiothoracic surgeon Mr Francis Wells, along with his team of doctors, put me at ease. They always spoke to me, gave me smiles and reassured me, which really helped.

The nurses and every other staff, including night staff, were so pleasant and friendly – nothing was too much trouble. The meals were really good, too.

I hope if I ever go to a general hospital the staff there will be as good. I would like to say a big thank you to whoever sewed me up; it’s a very neat scar.

I suffer from atrial fibrillation and after coming out of hospital I had a bad episode. Luckily, I was well looked after. My cardiologist kept me informed. I give a big thank you to all doctors, surgeons and nurses who specialise in different areas.

I have received Heart Matters since finding I had a heart problem. It is a good magazine with lots of helpful information. Keep up the good work!

Rosemarie Hawkins, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Comments online

Sir Magdi YacoubOur interview with Sir Magdi Yacoub, the first BHF Professor of cardiothoracic surgery, touched hearts on Facebook. Here are just a few of more than 1,000 comments we received.

  • This man saved my life 33 years ago! Thanks to him I have had a ‘normal’ life, and even managed to have two of my own miracles (without any heart defects). This is the only man that my husband doesn’t mind me saving a space in my heart for! Thank you Sir Magdi Yacoub. Thank you, from the bottom of my (mended) heart! Seeing this gorgeous picture made me cry. Nikki Curtis
  • Thank you Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub. You treated my ascending aortic aneurysm in 1996 and repaired my aortic regurgitation. I am eternally grateful to you for saving my life. Thank you will never be enough. Cheryl Ayre
  • Prof Yacoub was the surgeon at my first open heart surgery in 1981. He was kind and attentive. I’m now 82 and, despite problems, I feel great. Thank you for the extra 34 years so far. Harold Tobin

The signs of progress

Cardiac problems run in my family – my father died in the late 1960s and my mother in the early 1980s of heart issues. My brother required a double bypass operation. Thankfully, I am now 65 and very fit. I think what has helped me is following a healthy lifestyle. I run 15 to 20 miles per week and play four hours of badminton, coupled with a healthy diet.

When I look back at the last 40 years or so, I see two profound changes. The first is the march of medical science. If my parents had been born 20 or so years later they would have more than likely survived into old age. My brother was fortunately born late enough to take advantage of this.

The second is that information about lifestyle choices and preventing heart disease is so accessible now. No one has any excuses for not knowing this.

I have been an avid reader of Heart Matters for the last five years. It keeps me abreast of the latest medical science and developments in cardiac treatments. And it’s so informative relating to guidance on lifestyles, rehabilitation and more. So in sickness and in health I will never stop reading it!

Alan Smith, Rotherham

Hooray for the BHF

In January 2014, I had a heart attack. After three days in intensive care in hospital in South Africa, I was allowed home with two stents and a bag of assorted pills. And that’s all the help I received from the medical profession – no advice on rehabilitation, exercise regimes, diet or depression.

The BHF booklets have helped to reduce my fears and minimise the guesswork in my long-term recovery plans

By mid-year I was fit enough to travel to the UK to stay with friends in Leominster. Coincidentally, their neighbour, Geoff, had suffered a heart attack some weeks earlier and also had two stents fitted.

I was astounded to learn about his professionally managed recovery plan. To help me, Geoff gave me copies of the British Heart Foundation publications he had received on leaving hospital.

There are three invaluable booklets entitled Cardiac rehabilitation, Tests for heart conditions and Medicines for your heart, as well as your informative magazine Heart Matters.

My sincere thanks go to the BHF for these publications. They have helped to reduce my fears and minimise the guesswork in my long-term recovery plans.

Alan Ball, Durban, South Africa