Russel, 91: “I just take things as they come”

Russel Weller

Russel, 91, has had to deal with more health problems than most, including heart failure. But he remains an inspiration to his family, especially his granddaughter Victoria, as they tell Sarah Brealey.

Russel Weller, from Chelmsford, Essex, has heart failure, kidney failure and diabetes. He’s had two heart attacks, a stroke, skin cancers and a cardiac arrest. But he’s kept going and stayed positive despite his health problems, and is a role model for his three children and four grandchildren.

Russel stays active by gardening and also follows a healthy diet. “I just take things as they come,” he says. “What will be will be. I don’t worry about anything.

“I can’t walk very far, but otherwise I feel really well. I find it difficult to believe I am as old as I am.”

What will be will be. I don’t worry about anything

To granddaughter Victoria Cornwell, 37, (pictured below) Russel is a very special person. He’s survived so much, she now calls him her “nine lives granddad”.

He’s also a living example of how healthcare has developed over the decades. He still has scars all the way down both legs from his heart surgery in 1987. Nowadays, veins can usually be taken in a way that leaves less scarring. Since then, he’s had two angioplasty and stent procedures to unblock his narrowed arteries – procedures that were not widely available in the 1980s.

Support from others

Russel, who has been married to Mary for 64 years, has been a keen musician all his life and played the cornet and flugelhorn in a Salvation Army band until he was nearly 90. “That was a big help to me,” he says. “I think it strengthened my lungs and I had support from people there when I was ill.”

Victoria Cornwall with her grandfather Russel WellerHe says he’s also had a lot of support from the BHF. “I read Heart Matters and have had several of the booklets, too. They are very useful.”

Russel also owes his life to a stranger. Twenty years ago, he had a cardiac arrest while he and Mary were on holiday in Somerset. They were in a card shop when he collapsed, and was given life saving CPR by a passer-by. The family later returned to the shop with gifts, and the ambulance service wanted to recognise him for his actions, but the mystery shopper never came forward. Victoria says: “My family are forever indebted to this man, as Granddad would not be here today if it were not for his help.”

There have been times when Russel’s loved ones feared the worst, but he has always pulled through. And when he celebrated his 90th birthday with an afternoon tea party surrounded by family, it was a joyful occasion.

Mary, 82, says: “I have thought he was going to die a couple of times. When he had his last heart attack, he said ‘This is it this time.’ But I’m like him, I think it doesn’t do you any good to worry. You can get yourself in a state and then you are no good to anyone.”

Special bond

Victoria and her granddad share a special bond, as around the same time that Russel had his heart bypass surgery, Victoria had a narrowed heart valve corrected, aged 11.

I feel blessed to have had my granddad in my life for so long

“It helped me not to be frightened, because granddad had been through so much more,” she says.

“I was quite young at the time but I still remember going into hospital and having it done. I was in there less than a week.”

Victoria says that her childhood heart surgery didn’t affect her too much, and she’s led a normal life since then, though she sees her consultant every two years. “I still have a scar on my chest that you can see when I wear particular tops, but some of my close friends don’t even know about it. I had antibiotics when I was in labour with my two children [to reduce the risk of infection] but I can do anything except jump out of a plane.”

Victoria says she’s learned a lot about life and family values from her grandfather. “He’s such a positive influence who has always been at my side, never taking anything for granted and always thankful. I feel blessed to have had my granddad in my life for so long.”

Read about Ada, 91, who has no intention of stopping volunteering, and hear her talk about her wartime experiences in the Dutch Resistance

Read about Gladys, 96, who practises tai chi and has bounced back from many setbacks

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