Shirley’s story of supporting her partner through heart problems

Colin and Shirley Mallen

When Colin Mallen developed heart problems that threatened his job and his hobbies, his partner Shirley supported him – and they went on to have a perfect wedding.

Shirley Mallen, 44, from Whitburn, Tyne and Wear, has always been a fitness fan. In fact, it was this passion that brought her and partner, Colin, together. “I met him 14 years ago and he was extremely active; that’s what attracted me to him,” says Shirley. “We used to do a lot of running together, and a lot of climbing and cycling.”

The two liked to challenge themselves, but neither suspected that heart disease would create their toughest challenge of all. “It was 2008 when Colin had his first bout of ailments,” Shirley recalls. “It was quite a tough time, as we didn’t know initially what was wrong.”

Colin was fitted with an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) and told to alter his lifestyle – he could no longer go climbing and had to give up his job as a welder, as his tools would interfere with the device. “He lost his confidence,” says Shirley. “He would still go out on the bike, but the ICD would sometimes go off and he would receive a shock.”

I’d like to think my positivity was helpful to him

As Colin began to feel depressed, Shirley was there to help him through. “I told him not to give up, which was a struggle, because lots of people like him do and he suffered with terrible anxiety,” she says. “He does have the odd bit now, but it’s something he’s learned to control. I just had to be patient and calm.”

Eventually, Colin had the ICD removed, but tests revealed a blocked coronary artery, requiring him to have a stent procedure. The constant worry continued to affect Colin’s mood. “I just wanted him to get better, as you do,” says Shirley. “We wanted the old Colin back and at times it looked like it would never happen.”

In 2012, Colin suffered a heart rhythm disturbance and was hospitalised for over a month. “It was extremely tough because I thought I had lost him,” says Shirley.

“Making that journey in to see him every day was tough too, travelling from Whitburn to Newcastle, but it’s something you just accept, because you’re going there for someone you love. I think it strengthened our relationship.”

Shirley’s support was vital, as Colin feared he would never be able to exercise again. “He never, ever thought he’d get back on his road bike, and that really upset him,” says Shirley. “Seeing him in tears over that was hard.”

But when Colin returned home, he and Shirley didn’t give up. With physiotherapy sessions, a healthy diet and the slow reintroduction of exercise, he managed to get back on his bike. “He’s fighting fit now and doing extremely well,” says Shirley.

My advice to couples going through a similar time is to be patient and just believe

As Colin’s health improved, he and Shirley decided to get married. “I’d never wanted a proper wedding, I just wanted me and Colin to go away and get married quietly and so did he,” says Shirley. “But after everything, he wanted the full day, so that’s what we had. He absolutely loved it.”

The couple incorporated their love of fitness into the big day. “We rode away on our bikes rather than in a car at the end of the ceremony,” laughs Shirley.

“Then our honeymoon was a two-week cycling tour of the Netherlands. We did about 40 miles a day. It was even more special for the both of us after everything that happened.”

Soon after, Colin did the Newcastle to London bike ride to raise money for the BHF. Shirley and her mum travelled to the capital to meet him at the finish line with a celebratory bottle of champagne.

“I’d like to think my positivity was helpful to him,” says Shirley. “My advice to couples going through a similar time is to be patient and just believe. If you have fitness and a strong will, you can prevail.”

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