30 years with a pacemaker: Barry's story
Barry Meldrum developed heart problems when he was in his 30s, and has lived with a pacemaker ever since. But he hasn't let his health problems stop him living a full and happy life, as he tells Lucy Trevallion.
Barry Meldrum was 30 when he became ill and started losing weight. After several months, doctors realised he had endocarditis (an infection of the inner lining of the heart). One of his heart valves was damaged by the infection, so he needed open heart surgery to replace the valve.
After the surgery Barry, from Wakefield, started suffering from an irregular heartbeat. This is quite common after valve replacement surgery and often goes away on its own, but in Barry’s case it was more severe, and he now relies on a pacemaker to tell his heart when to beat.
Learning to live with health problems
“When I first got a pacemaker I was very anxious and never felt sure whether the batteries or leads would last,” Barry says. “But I had a very early model, with one lead. I’m now on my fifth one, and it doesn’t bother me much.”
In March 2015, Barry had a stroke. Luckily, he didn’t suffer any major long-term effects. But a few months later, he was found to have septic arthritis in his shoulder and chest. Doctors then found that his heart wasn’t pumping properly and diagnosed him with heart failure.
Sitting and worrying achieves nothing other than backing yourself into a corner
“If anything, I was slightly relieved at the diagnosis,” he says. “For a few years I felt something wasn’t right, but nothing had ever been diagnosed. When the cardiologist told me what it was and what she could do to help, I was OK with that.”
Barry takes a philosophical approach to life. “Sitting and worrying achieves nothing other than backing yourself into a corner. The professionals are doing all they can do for me, and at some point they won’t be able to do anything else and that’s OK.
“I’m not at all blasé about my life, I treasure every moment, but I feel a level of calmness. It’s not bravery, it’s just reality. You’ve got to plough on.”
Travelling and keeping busy
You don’t have to let your heart condition dictate how your life and career pan out. You have the choice to fight, and push and succeed
Despite his health problems, Barry has had a full family life with his wife and three sons. The couple have also enjoyed numerous foreign holidays. “Once you get used to being frisked instead of going through the scanners you can go anywhere,” he says. “On the odd occasion that you need a warfarin check or blood tests, it’s not such a problem. I’ve been to hospitals in Spain, Tenerife, Madeira and Portugal, and it was all relatively straightforward.”
Barry has worked as a company director and finance director, and set up four nursing homes, often working 60–70 hours a week. “It does show that you don’t have to let your heart condition dictate how your life and career pan out,” he says. “You have the choice to fight, and push and succeed.”
Strength to Barry is...
“Enjoying life as best you can. I am aware that, although it is very rare, my valve could fail, my pacemaker could stop, or my leads could fracture. But I have a good team of experts who always look after me as well as they can. One day things may fail, but until then I will continue to enjoy life.”