My body and me: moving on from a heart attack and motorcycle accident
After surviving cancer and a motorcycle accident, Keith had a heart attack. He tells us how he’s made it through and what the future holds.
My life changed when I was 54: I had a motorcycle accident. Almost the moment I hit the ground, I realised I couldn’t feel my legs. I didn’t know if it was permanent.
I spent eight months in hospital in Stanmore, which was a nightmare, and two months in a local hospital after that. I didn’t have a good time. I don’t like being stuck in hospitals.
When I came out, it was horrible. I was paralysed, and I now use a wheelchair. It does change your life completely, it turns it upside down. It’s not just that I’m paralysed, there are other ways your body is affected that aren’t pleasant, such as the acute neuropathic pain I suffer from now. And that’s the rest of your life. I didn’t like that idea at all.
You have to come to terms with these things, but I still don’t like it. If anyone says to me: ‘You must be used to it by now’, I want to say: ‘I’m never used to it, thank you very much’.
The best thing I’ve found out since being paralysed is that the majority of the people in this world are good people. I get people asking: ‘You want a hand, mate? Want me to push you?’ I won’t be pushed, but it’s nice of them.
And then came the heart attack.
One day in 2016 I got up in the morning and felt some pain in my chest. I’d never had heartburn before and thought it might be that. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and it felt worse. I pulled around to the bedroom door and called my wife, Sue. She called 999 straight away.
Within no time at all I was in an ambulance, then all the way to St George’s in Tooting (we live in Selsdon, near Croydon), where I had three stents put in.
You’re awake for the stents being put in. You’re laying there and you can hear the doctors talking.
I was mortified that I had a heart attack, of all things.
Then I’m told a third of my heart’s damaged, because of the heart attack. At the moment, my heart doesn’t feel any different, I just know it’s different. I can’t feel it’s not functioning properly.
I was mortified that I had a heart attack, of all things. Despite being in a wheelchair, I was still active – I have a wheelchair with no handles on it, so I’m never pushed anywhere. But because I’m always sitting, my sedentary lifestyle probably didn’t help.
Before his motorcycle accident, Keith was a keen rugby player.
I was a fit person until my motorbike accident: a rugby player, had no paunch, always liked to keep fit. I was an athlete all my life. Now I’m on about 18 tablets a day.
After the heart attack I had to start taking more medication, to help the heart failure and reduce my risk of further problems, on top of what I was already taking. I’ve started doing weights again and I don’t drink as much. I used to go down to the pub and drink lots of pints of beer, but I can’t do that anymore. I’ll still have the occasional vodka and tonic or glass of red wine, though.
Facing up to mortality
My youngest brother died of a heart attack four years ago. He was found on the bedroom floor. I’m at the point where I think: ‘Next time, will it just kill me?’ It could happen to anyone, but now I’ve had a heart attack, you do think about it more. I think about the fact a third of my heart’s damaged.
Keith's wife Sue has been a big source of comfort for him.
My kids and wife say: “Stop it, you’re not going to die!” But I do think about that. You ask yourself: have I done and said everything I want to?
But I don’t moan about it. Once again, there’s nothing I can do about it.
This is actually my third brush with death. I was 41 when I was diagnosed with lymphoma. I just thought, there was no way it was going to beat me. If I can’t do anything about it, I’m not going to worry about it. And that’s still my attitude. I had chemotherapy for the lymphoma, and when the cancer was gone, I moved on.
Staying independent, despite my wheelchair
I haven’t stopped living because of what’s happened to me. I’m independent. I still drive; I’ve got a car with hand controls. I’ve got family in Dublin, Cork and near Limerick, so I’ve driven to Ireland and back to see them. I’ll probably go this year. One of them is building an extension to include a complete wet room for me. They’ve been very good.
Family is very important to Keith.
Sue and I used to go on holiday together every year. Since my accident, I’ve not been in the sun, I haven’t really bothered. But now I’m thinking: I do want the sun! So I’m going to get out there somehow. It’s just finding a place with adapted faculties – maybe in Greece or the Canary Islands.
I’ve also been out to New Zealand a couple of times since the heart attack. I have a friend over there who insisted on bringing me over to see him and watch the rugby – the Lions Tour in 2017. I couldn’t get to the South Island, but I travelled around the North Island still. I had a great time.
I still watch a lot of rugby – at Twickenham and on TV. It’s the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year, so I’ll probably watch all of that at home.
I also organise past-player lunches for my rugby club and get along to reunions.
Support from my family
Sue and I have got three children – Simon is 35, Sally is 32 and Martin is 26. They all live and work in London. We have every Christmas together as a family, as well as birthdays and so on.
Keith with his first grandchild, Louis.
My eldest son Simon had a child, Louis, just before Christmas, so I’m a grandfather for the first time. Christmas was really great. We had the whole family together for the 35th year, which is quite amazing when you’ve got three adult kids. Then it’s Martin’s birthday on Boxing Day. It was really special because Louis was there too. It was just us, as a family, for three days.
I’m looking forward to having fun with Louis as he gets older. Next Christmas will be even better.
I consider myself lucky to have survived three life-threatening incidents. Although, I have since found out that luck had nothing to with it and that the British Heart Foundation has funded research into stents. So now I feel grateful that this has helped me to survive and to be around to meet my first grandchild.