My story

5 people who did amazing things after heart problems

Life doesn’t stop when you develop heart problems, and to prove that here are five people who went on to do amazing things.

ruth smiling

From arrhythmia to The Apprentice

After collapsing after a gym workout in 2011, businesswoman Ruth Whitely had to have an ablation to fix her arrhythmia. Whilst recuperating from her operation Ruth began watching box sets of The Apprentice, and set herself the challenge of facing Lord Sugar in the boardroom, which she did.

Ruth knew that if she could handle the stress of the boardroom, she could handle whatever life could throw at her as Ruth said: “If I can stand that, I am cured”.

John and his wife atop Incan mountain

From heart bypass surgery to an Incan adventure

Suffering from heart pain whilst walking on holiday in 2013, John McGee, 66, a retired technical trainer from Swindon, put it down to his asthma. But the pain persisted after he returned home, and John was sent for an angiogram where it was revealed he would need a quadruple bypass operation.

After the operation John began cardiac rehab, where he got to meet people who had gone through similar experiences. As John began to get fitter and stronger he decided to achieve a long-held dream of touring South America, and set a goal to go for his 40th wedding anniversary.

Two years after his bypass operation John stood at 11,500 feet on top of a mountain in Peru. “It was amazing…The surgery allowed me to do this,” he says.

Helen Doyle

From a hole in the heart to running the London Marathon

Helen Doyle, 24, had always been a keen runner but after passing out at work one day in 2012 she was rushed to hospital in an ambulance. Tests revealed that Helen had an atrial septal defect (a hole in the heart). Helen required open heart surgery to fix the hole in her heart and stop one of her valves from leaking.

She had her operation in January 2015 and once she recuperated and returned to exercise she could only manage to run "for about five seconds". Helen then turned to cardiac rehab which she said was “amazing” and helped her to “get things in perspective”. She ran her first 10k in autumn 2015, and on 24th April 2016 Helen ran the London Marathon raising £3,000 to help Royal Brompton buy an echocardiogram machine.

Andrew McDonald

From atrial fibrillation to flying a Spitfire

High-flying barrister Andrew McDonald was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) after collapsing at work at the age of 60. Andrew had a pacemaker fitted and underwent an ablation procedure. Until this point in his life Andrew had always taken his health for granted but he soon realised that “it doesn’t take very much to throw your life out of equilibrium”.

During his annual review in 2011 Andrew’s doctor asked him what Andrew had on his bucket list. Without thinking Andrew blurted out “fly a Spitfire” and his doctor told him to get on with it. That was all the motivation that Andrew needed to get fit, so that he could pass a Civil Aviation Authority medical exam. Despite other obstacles in his way, Andrew took to the sky in a Spitfire, flying over Southampton, and in September 2015 Andrew achieved his next goal of renewing his pilot instructor’s license.

Ian Ayling, groundsman at Twickenham Stadium, following a dream despite heart problems

From a heart murmur to Twickenham stadium

At just 25 years old, back in 1996, semi-professional footballer and Uxbridge Cricket Club groundsman, Ian Ayling had an operation to fit a new mechanical valve in his heart after he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. Ian would also need to take Warfarin every day and was told to give up football and other contact sports.

Distraught at not being able to continue as a sportsman, Ian was given the all-clear to continue working as a groundsman, it was “the next best thing,” says Ian. He suffered further complications, including two carotid artery dissections, but thanks to the support of his wife Niamh and his family, Ian overcame them. He became the deputy head groundsman at Twickenham Stadium, the home of English rugby, working alongside the rugby stars he admired.