How Bill has fought his family history of heart disease
Bill Taylor, his father and his brother all had heart attacks aged 57. Thanks to his active lifestyle and an ICD, which provides reassurance, Bill is fighting fit. He talks to Sarah Kidner.
"I have been the lucky one,” says Bill Taylor who is celebrating his 68th birthday this year. It’s a significant milestone, as Bill’s brother and his father both suffered fatal heart attacks aged 57. At the same age Bill also had a heart attack, which led to a cardiac arrest, but he survived.
Bill, from Mansfield, says: “My father missed seeing his first grandchild by a month. He liked a drink and he smoked about 20 cigarettes a day, and he was also a little overweight. At an early age I decided I would not smoke, and keep myself fit, to give me a better chance of survival.”
It is a promise he’s kept all his life. Bill played football throughout his 20s and then became a referee. He was a member of the Nottinghamshire Football Association for 25 years. “I was refereeing about 75 matches a season,” he says, “and was lucky enough to be appointed as a fourth official for the game between Nottingham Forest and Manchester City.”
For Bill, exercise helped him alleviate the stress of running his own construction firm. In the 1980s, he entered the Mansfield Half Marathon, the first of more than 100 half marathons he ran, before progressing to full marathons, completing 13 in total. The highlight, he says, came in 1989 when he completed the Sandwell Marathon in under three hours. “It’s a club runner’s dream to beat that target,” says Bill.
Suddenly, I went unconscious and keeled over
In February 2003 while exercising at the gym with his wife Linda, Bill had a heart attack and collapsed. “We were both nearing the end of a one-hour exercise programme,” he says. “I was pushing myself as usual and thinking of what had happened to my dad. Suddenly, I went unconscious and keeled over.”
As a result of the heart attack, his heart went into ventricular fibrillation and he suffered a cardiac arrest. Luckily, a local doctor and a nurse were both in the gym and resuscitated him with CPR. Bill says: “Without a doubt they helped to save my life. The gym phoned for an ambulance, and within minutes a paramedic arrived. He used a shocking device to reset my heart rhythm.”
A strong family history of heart disease is one of the indicators that you may also be at risk of cardiovascular disease. A family history means if your father, mother, brother or sister developed coronary heart disease or had a stroke at a young age (under 65 for women, and under 55 for men).
Those aged over 40 are entitled to a free risk assessment, which in England is known as the NHS Health Check. You will then be given support to manage that risk.
Modifiable risk factors include being overweight, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity and smoking. Non-modifiable risk factors, which you can’t do anything about, include age, gender, ethnicity and family history. If you have a family history of heart disease, it’s even more important to keep active and eat healthily.
Read more about NHS health checks
While Bill was being stretchered from the gym, his son-in-law arrived to go swimming with Bill’s eldest grandson Joshua. “It was an enormous shock to them and has had quite an effect on Josh. If it’s ever mentioned, he struggles to talk about it. So do I, if I’m honest,” says Bill. Four days after being admitted to hospital Bill’s heart again went into VF and he had another cardiac arrest, once more needing defibrillation. Several weeks later, Bill was discharged. “Those first few weeks were frightening, particularly at bedtime, always worrying if you were going to have another attack.”
When something like this happens, it isn’t just you who’s affected – it affects you as a whole family
Later, he was referred to City Hospital, Nottingham where he had an angiogram, which resulted in an angioplasty and two stents. Bill had cardiac rehabilitation and, in November 2003, was preparing to go back to work. He’d been enjoying a round of golf with his golfing partner, Alan Peatfield.
“The weather was foul and we decided to call it a day after nine holes,” says Bill. “We retreated to the clubhouse to have a hot cup of tea and some toast. I never got to finish either of them. Within minutes of sitting down, I felt pains across my chest, and Alan said the colour drained out of me.” Alan rushed Bill to the nearby A&E where his heart went into VF for the third time.
Peace of mind
After further tests, doctors recommended fitting Bill with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). ICDs are commonly fitted in people such as Bill who have previously had a cardiac arrest due to VF, and are at risk of having it again. An ICD won’t prevent another cardiac arrest, but it will help return the heart rhythm to normal if someone suffers a cardiac arrest as the result of a VF. “A device like that is a godsend,” says Bill. “It felt as if I had a guardian angel watching over me.”
However, that wasn’t the case for Bill’s wife, Linda, who still felt anxious. He says: “When I first came home my wife used to go to sleep with her arm across my chest. She was praying nothing would happen.” He’s conscious that a family history of heart disease could affect his son, Andrew, and has spoken to him about the importance of keeping active.
As for Bill, he’s back playing golf, going to the gym, helping his daughter look after her allotment and looking forward to the future. “When I was 60, Linda organised a big party and all my friends were there, and some of my consultants. I said I was looking forward to seeing everyone on my 70th birthday. It’s almost here and I can’t wait to celebrate.”
Learn more about cardiac arrests
How you can help
If you're there when someone has a cardiac arrest, call 999 as quickly as possible and perform CPR. To learn how, watch the BHF's video featuring Vinnie Jones