“My heart attack made me look after myself - now I feel great”
Taxi driver Sean Moran has changed his life since his heart attack. He tells Sarah Brealey how he feels better than ever.
When Sean Moran had his heart attack at the age of 40, his first thoughts were that he was going to die. But having got back on his feet, he says he was “determined to change my life”. Sean has done just that, by becoming more active, eating healthily, losing weight and cutting back his working hours. Now he says: “I am fitter than I have ever been.”
The father-of-four from Derry was at work driving his taxi when he felt a crushing pain in his chest and shooting pains in his arm. Not realising what the problem was, he drove home and told his wife, who called the doctors’ surgery. Staff explained that he needed an ambulance straight away. “When the paramedics told me I was having a heart attack I started panicking,” says Sean. “I thought I was going to die, or that I would never be able to work again.”
Once in hospital, Sean had an angioplasty and stent procedure to unblock his coronary artery. Although he felt better physically, he was struggling to deal with the emotional impact of his heart attack. He says: “All I thought about was dying young. I thought ‘I am going to have another one in a couple of weeks’; ‘How long does a stent last?’ All these things were going through my head.”
It was cardiac rehabilitation that put Sean’s fears to rest, and made him realise that he needed to change his lifestyle. “Out of my cardiac rehab class of eight people, three of us were taxi drivers,” he says. “They told us how a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to your risk of heart disease.” Sean realised that this applied to him – and that there were other unhealthy habits that went along with his job.
I love cycling – it is the scenery, the fresh air, getting out and about
“I was working long hours, usually about 70 hours a week. I was afraid to stop working for an hour because I thought I might miss out on a pound or two. You are sitting down all day. You often eat on the go – things like bacon and sausage rolls, just horrible food. And I wasn’t doing any exercise to burn it off.
“I used to be a smoker too, although I had stopped on my 40th birthday.”
At the rehab sessions, Sean started physical activity, gradually increasing the amount. By the end, he found he was enjoying it and decided to take up cycling. Before the heart attack, he didn’t even own a bike, but soon Sean became addicted. He says: “I love it! I think it is the scenery, the fresh air, getting out and about. I seem to have more energy afterwards and I feel great.”
Sean set a target to do Lap the Lough, a 90-mile bike ride, in August last year – a year after his heart attack. He says: “I built up to it by doing my 10- to 15-mile rides during the week, plus longer rides with my brother at weekends. “Doing the event was great, especially chatting to some of the other people taking part. I was a bit tired afterwards but I felt brilliant, like I had achieved something.”
But he didn’t stop there. Sean still cycles four times a week, covering 20 to 25 miles each time. He says: “I used to look at cyclists in Lycra and think I would never be one of them. Now I have got all the kit and have just sent away for some more – including a BHF cycling top from the online gift shop.”
5 tips for a healthier lifestyle
- Try to do some physical activity every day, so it becomes part of your routine. Walk or cycle to get to places – whether you’re going to work, the shop, or doing the school run. If you need something to motivate you, why not sign up for a sponsored event?
- Make simple food swaps. Try reduced-fat dairy products instead of full-fat ones. Instead of a packet of crisps or a sausage roll, reach for an apple or banana.
- If you smoke, stop. It’s the biggest thing you can do to help your health.
- Cut back on salt. If everyone in the UK cut back by 3g of salt a day, it would prevent 10,000 deaths and a further 10,000 events such as heart attacks and strokes each year. Processed foods are the biggest source of salt in our diets, so read food labels and choose lower-salt options, or make food from scratch instead of buying ready-made versions.
- Limit alcohol. Regularly exceeding three to four units a day for men (less than two pints of 4 per cent alcohol beer) or two to three units for women (less than one large glass of 13 per cent alcohol wine) can increase your risk of health problems, including damage to your heart and certain cancers.
Sean, now 42, has changed his diet too. He eats more fish, chicken and vegetables, reads food labels to make healthier choices and buys reduced-salt options. “A lot of people think you’ll be really restricted in what you can eat,” he says, “but there are lots of things you can have. My mother made me a lovely fish pie from Heart Matters magazine, and then she taught me how to do it.” He’s lost four stone in weight, and says: “It’s nice to get compliments from people. “I sleep better, and my wife says I don’t snore any more.”
I used to feel bad if I wasn’t working – now I feel bad if I’m not getting out and about outside my taxi
Sean was off work for 17 weeks after his heart attack, and had to go through a fitness test before he could regain his taxi licence. “I was really panicking about it,” he says, “but I got through it no problem. The cardiac rehab nurse gave me a lot of support.”
Now back at work, he’s reduced his working hours. “I’ve halved my hours and I’m not any worse off, because I’m spending less on diesel and on garage bills,” he says. “I used to feel bad if I wasn’t working – now I feel bad if I’m not getting out and about outside my taxi. “When I’m working I try to move more. I get out of the taxi and see if people want their bags putting in the boot, or I get out and talk to the other taxi drivers.”
Sean even tries to spread the word to other drivers and encourages them to get health checks. Working less gives him more time to spend with his family, and he’s found the benefits of being fitter here too. “When we went on holiday, my nine-year-old taught me to swim,” he says. “I had never swum before, because I was paranoid about my big belly, but this time I was in the pool with my boys every morning.”
All in all, he says: “My heart attack has opened up a whole new life for me. It has made me look after myself. It’s terrible that it took something like that to make me change. “I know there is still a chance that this could happen again, but I am doing everything I can to reduce the risk. “I feel better than ever".
Sean says he’s had a lot of support from the BHF. “Heart Matters magazine is brilliant. I look forward to every issue and read it from cover to cover,” he says. “I look at the BHF website as well, and I really like the way it explains things simply.” If you’ve had a heart attack, you should be offered cardiac rehab within ten days of leaving hospital. Ask your cardiologist or GP if you don’t get offered this. Sean says: “I would say to anyone who’s invited to cardiac rehab, definitely go. It gave me back my confidence.”