Your letters

Linda Plews on her son

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

Thanks for making me feel good about my heart surgery scar

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

Plus side of statins

StatinsWhat a great and inspiring story about Chris Courtenay Williams’ return to football after a heart attack and a stent. Just one observation though – he says: “I don’t like having to take [statins] because of the side effects.”

There seems to be too much emphasis these days on the bad side effects of statins and little mention of people like me who have been taking them regularly (14 years in my case) and have never experienced any side effects whatsoever.

Tony Buck, Eastwood, Nottinghamshire

Heart Matters Medical Editor Maureen Talbot says: It’s good to see someone speaking up for statins. As your experience shows, many people taking statins don’t experience any side effects. Statins can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and have proven benefits for those who have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease or are at increased risk of stroke.

Reader's tip

I have read with interest your articles about recovery after a heart event. When I came out of hospital after a quadruple heart bypass, I made a wish list of things I would like to do as I recovered, starting with a visit to a local garden centre. It gave me great satisfaction to tick off the items as I completed them, so I hope this suggestion may help other people.

Peter Fontaine, Marcham, Oxfordshire

Heart Matters Deputy Editor Sarah Brealey says: Thanks for this helpful suggestion. Readers who find this useful might also enjoy our article about rebuilding confidence after a heart event – plus extra tips.

Heart bypass and the French rehabilitation system

For the past 12 years my wife and I have lived in the south of France, enjoying an outdoor and active life with sensible diets and plenty of tennis, swimming, biking and hiking. I should admit that perhaps the temptation of delightful local wines has been a debatable advantage and that I smoked three or four cigars each day.

At the start of 2014, I found myself losing breath on the tennis court rather quickly and needing short rests. After seeing my doctor and a cardiologist, I had a four-hour bypass operation. A week in hospital was followed by three weeks in a French cardiac rehabilitation centre.

This was an interesting time with daily monitoring, blood tests, stamina-building, physical therapy, talks on many subjects, and sophrology, a technique which uses physical and visualisation exercises to encourage a healthy, relaxed body and a calm, alert mind.

How important it is to appreciate the most simple and meaningful aspects of life

The centre carried out regular checks, not only on physical health but also morale and mental attitude. It would appear that maintaining a positive morale has a significant impact on recovery.

I developed a greater awareness of how we can so slowly, but undoubtedly, damage ourselves over time – I have not smoked a cigar for over 12 months now – and how important it is to appreciate the most simple and meaningful aspects of life.

Nigel Cox, Seillans, France

Thanks for fixing my heart

My double bypass surgery has helped me to feel my old self again. I had angina due to two blocked arteries, which I only found I had after getting a tight chest while walking up a steep hill in Devon.

I went to see my doctor who sent me to a cardiologist at the local hospital. They did tests on me, including an ECG, and I was told it showed I’d had two heart attacks! I had my bypass at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge.

My thanks to my heart surgeon Mr Nashef, all the nurses and doctors involved in looking after me and Bedford Hospital cardiac department. I thank them from my heart for sorting me out and making me well again.

Ann Robinson, Bedford