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“I couldn’t have survived without my wife” – David’s story

David Presland with his wife, Rachel

Sometimes the road to recovery is a long, hard slog, but the right support can make that journey easier, as David Presland tells Rachael Healy.

“I just couldn’t have done it without my wife,” says David Presland, 43. “Rachel dealt with the frustrations, the low points and the funny moments… she’s been there every day.”

David has dealt with heart surgery and a stroke as well as the effects of heart disease, but his positive outlook and the support of his wife have helped him on the way to recovery.

David’s health problems started late last year, when he experienced breathlessness and chest pain while out walking. He visited his GP, who conducted an electrocardiogram (ECG). Worrying results meant David needed an angiogram.

This revealed one blocked artery and two others with serious obstructions. David was told he would need further treatment. “But at that stage,” he says, “I was convinced they were wrong.”

Facing heart bypass surgery

In February, David was climbing stairs in a country pub when tiredness overwhelmed him. Rachel, seeing he was grey and having trouble standing, called an ambulance.

David, who lives in Elton, Peterborough, ended up in Papworth Hospital. His condition deteriorated fast. “I was admitted on a Sunday,” he says. “By Wednesday I was bed-bound. The consultants decided it had to be a bypass.

“The operation was scheduled for the Saturday, but they wanted to insert an intra-aortic balloon pump [used to help keep the hearts of critically ill patients pumping], to ease the demand on the heart. That got my attention; I knew it was getting serious.”

“Things moved phenomenally quickly,” says Rachel, 40. “To watch someone who was very active suddenly deteriorate was incredibly shocking.”

Without my wife, I wouldn’t have made it through

Surgery was brought forward to Thursday and went smoothly. David wants to reassure others undergoing an operation: “It will hurt, but that won’t last. You’re going to have some highs and lows, but that’s normal.”

After two days, he was taken by wheelchair to another ward. As he tried to stand, he collapsed.

“I came to when I was about to have an MRI scan,” he says. “I remember voices, but it was all black. I couldn’t feel my leg… I couldn’t feel my arm… I had 30 minutes in the MRI... the longest time of my life. I was thinking: ‘How am I going to work? How am I going to drive?’”

David’s symptoms were caused by a stroke, but after 24 hours he started to regain movement. The next few days were tough, but Rachel was by David’s side throughout.

“The Papworth team were great,” says Rachel. “They were very good at signposting signs of progress. It was important from my perspective to understand what David was going through so I could focus on getting him through the tough days.”

New achievable goals

When David was released from hospital, the effects of the stroke made many everyday tasks difficult. He attended physiotherapy to help him regain full movement. Rachel continued to be a vital emotional support.

“Without her, I wouldn’t have made it through,” says David. “She was strong enough to stay positive. A couple of times I lost my rag because I couldn’t do small things like open a bottle of water. I had to learn very quickly to ask her to do simple tasks for me. She had to deal with all of the emotions.”

Fortunately, they both held on to their sense of humour. “We try to look back and laugh at the funny moments,” says David. “Like when we nearly got evacuated from critical care for a fire. I was getting really hot, so I would’ve been glad to get some fresh air!”

“It’s just about looking for those funny things and finding the bright side of the situation,” says Rachel. “David’s a surfer, so I’d asked his surgeon: ‘Any chance you could make the scar look like a shark bite?’ They said no…”

Together, David and Rachel focused on staying positive and making physical progress. “He’ll always try and push himself,” says Rachel. “There’s that challenge of telling him: ‘You don’t need to be pushing this hard today.’”

“My cardiac nurse told me not to overdo it on a good day because I’d crash the next day,” David says. “There were so many learnings from this.”

Now, we try to look back and laugh at the funny moments

On the good days, Rachel and David walked the same route to the local shop. One day, after steady improvement, David couldn’t do it any more. Now, when walking or talking, he sometimes experiences breathlessness and chest pain.

A CT scan revealed his grafts are fine. Heart disease in the smaller arteries appears to be causing the problem. With the help of his surgeon Marius Berman, David is trying additional medications and is determined to make a good recovery, even if it’s a slow process.

“I just need to know where the limit is for the new me,” says David. “It took a while to get my head around that. I bought myself a paddleboard because I live near a river. I will get to do that. But I’ve had to accept that some sports, like snowboarding, I may not be able to do.”

“When you’re having a good day, go out and do stuff,” says Rachel. “If not, just watch a box set. Acknowledge that there are bad days and you will get through it.”

David advises others to maintain a routine and set achievable goals, such as building up to a two-mile walk. “I still get up at 7am to make my wife a cup of tea, as if I were going to work,” he says. “I will go back to work, so I don’t want it to be a shock to the system.”

Rachel thinks these goals are useful. “That’s important, because then he has a sense of achievement,” she says.

David has many long-term goals too. “I’ve bought myself a new classic car project,” he says. “Next year, I am planning to do a 13-mile obstacle course; it might not be possible, but that is a goal.

“Rachel keeps saying she is starting to see the old me again, with some spark back.”

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