Life with a pacemaker: Two inspiring stories
Having a pacemaker brings peace of mind, which can help you return to an active life. Sarah Brealey meets two people who are proof of that
Dancing has been a part of Stan Flukes’ life since 1954, and he’s not stopped since then. Stan, 79, remains active in many other ways, including walking and table tennis. He says having a pacemaker fitted 21 years ago gave him a second lease of life.
Stan, a semi-retired accountant from Wiltshire, has always kept active and enjoyed sports, but when he was in his mid-50s, he collapsed suddenly on two separate occasions. “It was like a light being switched off – one minute I felt fine and the next minute I collapsed. So I saw my doctor and had various tests, including a 24-hour ECG,” he says.
Sometimes, as in Stan’s case, an electrical problem in your heart can cause it to pause or slow down, which may cause blackouts. In these cases, having a pacemaker ensures that your heart still gets electrical impulses, which regulate the heartbeat.
I enjoy the movement, the variety, the music – and of course holding a young lady in my arms!
Anita Tucker, 38, has had her pacemaker for seven years. The pacemaker was fitted after Anita, a mother of- one from Chester, went to the doctor suffering from headaches and dizziness.
She was given several tests, including a 24-hour ECG. She’d fainted twice previously and felt an occasional irregular heartbeat, but didn’t think anything of it, as she had generally felt well. While
Anita was wearing the ECG, she blacked out in her garden and was taken to hospital. She was kept in for a few days and then had a pacemaker fitted.
Like Stan, Anita says the device hasn’t got in the way of an active lifestyle. “The pacemaker hasn’t stopped me doing anything,” she says. “In fact, after it was fitted, I qualified as a Zumba dance instructor and was teaching three or four classes a week.”
Life as normal
Both Stan and Anita say they were comfortable having their pacemakers fitted. For Anita, whose daughter is now eight, it has given her peace of mind. “Especially having a young child, I feel I don’t have to worry about fainting when I’m on my own with her, because the pacemaker will prevent that,” she says.
Pacemakers are usually fitted under local anaesthetic, taking around an hour. The pacemaker implantation went smoothly for both Stan and Anita, although a few weeks afterwards, Anita had to go back to hospital because one of the pacemaker leads had slipped and needed adjustment.
When you have a pacemaker fitted, it’s important to be careful about moving your arms for the first six to eight weeks. Avoid heavy lifting, stretching and lifting your arms on the affected side above your head. This is because the leads need time to embed firmly in your heart. After that, you should be able to do all normal activities.
Pacemakers are powered by a battery that usually lasts eight to ten years, after which the pacemaker box will be replaced. You should have a pacemaker check at least once a year, when the battery life will be reviewed. Stan’s had his pacemaker battery replaced once so far. He’s also a long-serving blood donor and is proud of having given 73 pints of blood in his lifetime.
Anita was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago and went through chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy. Because the tumour was next to her pacemaker, she had a new device fitted on the other side of her chest, so it didn’t get in the way of the radiotherapy.
Stan’s advice to other people, whether they have a pacemaker or not, is: “Keep as active as you can.” For Stan, that means table tennis two or three times a week, as well as ballroom and line dancing. He says that the attractions of dancing are numerous. “I enjoy the movement, the variety, the music – and of course holding a young lady in my arms!”
Stan took up ballroom dancing when he was 18, which led to him meeting his wife, Pat. He says: “I asked her for the last dance and she never let me go after that.” The couple have been married for 56 years and have three children and three grandchildren. They’ve won medals together for ballroom dancing, although joint problems mean Pat can’t dance much at the moment.
The pacemaker hasn’t stopped me doing anything
Stan feels lucky that he can be active and finds it strange to think that he’s approaching his 80s. As he says: “I said to my wife the other day, ‘I can’t believe I’ll be 70 soon’ and she said, ‘You’ll be 80 soon!’”
Anita’s now been clear of cancer for three years, but the chemotherapy has left her with some nerve damage in her legs. Following the cancer treatment, Anita saw a physiotherapist, who referred her to an exercise programme. She still goes to the gym twice a week and has taken up Nordic walking – a kind of full-body exercise that uses poles. She’s waiting for her leg to recover fully before she returns to Zumba.
Anita has explained to her daughter about the pacemaker. She says: “I told her that she can’t put any magnetic toys near it, which she understands.” Stan has children and grandchildren in Australia and has visited them many times. He says he doesn’t have any problems, but tells airport staff about his pacemaker.
Anita will soon be travelling to Las Vegas on holiday and is looking forward to it. She says: “This will be the first time I’ve flown since I got the pacemaker. But it won’t stop me from doing anything I want to do.”
Pacemakers: dos and don’ts
- Do let the DVLA and your car insurance company know you have one.
- Do use a mobile or cordless phone if you want, but use the ear on the opposite side to the pacemaker.
- Do keep MP3 players at least 15cm (6in) from your pacemaker.
- Don’t use an induction hob if it is less than 60cm (2 feet) from your pacemaker.
- Don’t put anything with a magnet within 15cm (6in) of your pacemaker.
- Don’t linger for too long in shop doorways with anti-theft systems, although walking through them is fine.
- Do walk through security screening at airports, but make sure you have your ID card with you, as the alarm is likely to go off.
- Don’t stand close to airport security screening for too long and, if someone checks you with a handheld scanner, ask them not to hold it over your pacemaker.
Support from the BHF
If you want to talk to others in a similar position, visit our Heart Support Groups website or call our Heart Helpline on 0300 330 3300 to find your nearest group.