Your letters

Our readers share their stories of living with heart conditions and their views on everything from the progress of medical science to cardiac rehabilitation.

Illustration of hospital and medical surgery

Coping with PTSD

I was so relieved to read in your Spring issue that loved ones can also develop PTSD, after witnessing a partner having a heart attack. Until reading that article, I thought I was the only one not managing to cope.

My husband suffered a heart attack on New Year’s Day and I accompanied him by ambulance to a hospital 50 miles from home. His treatment has been excellent, but the whole experience has had a detrimental effect on my own health and just knowing I was not alone would have been of huge benefit.

I really do feel there is a need for practical and emotional support for partners, not just at the time but in the months that follow.

Carol Kessel, Cornwall Heart Matters

Heart Matters Editor Sarah Brealey replies:

I’m very sorry to hear about your experience. It’s just as important for loved ones to seek professional help to treat their PTSD. Find out more about PTSD causes and treatments, and visit our online community Health Unlocked which offers support from others in similar situations. 

Donating to further knowledge

I have carried a donor card for several decades, but with the deterioration in my health I wondered how relevant this had become. Medication for pulmonary fibrosis means my kidneys and liver may not be suitable for donation.

My consultant recommended that I consider donating my body to the University of Bristol Medical School, where it can be used for education, training or research. While organ donation may be the best option, I would encourage anyone whose organs may not be suitable for donation to consider donating their body for education and research.

Bob George, Tiverton

You can register as an organ donor as well as giving permission for your body to be used for research. Organ donation will take priority if your organs are suitable. Visit NHS Organ Donation or call 0300 123 2323 to register. To find out about donating your body to a medical school, visit Human Tissue Authority or call 020 7269 1900. Ensure your family know your wishes. 

Painting a picture

Having had a stent fitted four years ago, I plucked up the courage to read what was an excellent explanation of stents. Moreover, it is great to show family and friends so they can understand what I went through, which in turn helps me.

I also found Healing words of particular interest. Similarly to Jane, who has gained a new perspective on life through writing, I have found painting a brilliant way to deal with and share emotions. I would recommend it, and the benefits of art psychotherapy, to others facing the challenges of heart disease.

Mike Hodgkiss, Suffolk

Gratitude to volunteer first responders

On 6 March 2018, while out taking my morning walk, I suffered a cardiac arrest. Fortunately, a volunteer first responder was close by, and while carrying out CPR on me she asked someone to call 999. Two more first responders then arrived with a defibrillator. They shocked my heart and got it pumping again.

The ambulance took 14 minutes to arrive, and without the help of these volunteers I would not be around to praise them for the life-saving work they carry out. I am now well on the way to a full recovery thanks to the care and attention received from first responders Carol, Rosie and Andy in Hornsea, the ambulance crews of East Yorkshire and the medical and rehabilitation staff in Hull.

A big thank you to all volunteer first responders around the country for training and giving up your time to help people like me.

David Pratt, Hornsea

Find out about learning CPR in your community.

Looking inside a pacemaker

After having a pacemaker implanted because of vasovagal syncope, I was interested to know and understand correctly how it works. The article was so good in helping me understand that. I knew it was clever, but wow, what a phenomenal piece of kit I have in me. Thank you for listening and for publishing such an amazing and informative magazine.

Kim Mooney, Essex

Helping friends understand I was so pleased to see the diagram of an actual pacemaker. What a relief! I can now show friends what’s inside me when they ask questions. Also the article ‘My invisible condition’ is so true. When kind friends say, “Oh, you do look well,” I say thank you, but inside I’m screaming to myself, “I might look well but I don’t feel it right now”. I’m so pleased to see those hidden feelings in print.

Ann Gee, Leicestershire

Invisibility cloak

‘My invisible condition’ touched my heart. When you don’t look ill, it’s hard for people to understand. I think we need public information adverts on TV.

When you don't look ill, it's hard for people to understand.

I had to ask my specialist for a letter enabling me to get a radar key for disability toilets. I’m a runner and it must look weird to see me in my running kit using my radar key, but if anyone says anything or gives me a look I always explain my problem. I’ve always had a good response. Great magazine – keep up the good work.

Debbie Pentland, Southsea

Statins side effects

Right from the outset, the Winter 2018-19 article on statins assumes that statin takers with muscle pains might be making it all up.

Well, I can assure you that I was not when I discontinued the first statin, then another, and then a third, all after the same severe muscle pains after being on them for about 18 months each.

Statin tablets next to a glass of water

My GP agreed that some patients, maybe only a few, are hypersensitive to the side effects of statins. He put me on a fibrate instead, which I have been taking ever since without side effects.

So I was not making up the muscle aches, tingling and other sensations. They are real, genuine and debilitating. What should be happening is that drug companies do more research into statin-like drugs and produce one that doesn’t have side effects!

Michael Mitchell, Lincolnshire

Heart Matters Editor Sarah Brealey replies:

Thank you for your letter. I’m sorry that you found the article unhelpful. The article intended to get across that some people who experience symptoms on statins are found by placebo-controlled trials to also experience symptoms when taking a placebo.

We do recognise that these symptoms are real, whether or not they are caused by the chemical effect of the statin. We know that a minority of people do suffer side effects caused by the chemical effect of the statin. The research highlighted in the feature may help patients and doctors to recognise this, and make informed decisions about whether to continue with statins.

There are already alternatives to statins – look out for our Summer 2019 issue for more information on these.

A positive start

The latest edition of Heart Matters dropped through my letterbox on 31 December 2018. The prospect of a new year was not filling me with excitement and joy – 2018 had been something of a struggle. Not only had I become a carer for a close relative, but I had begun to suffer from health issues myself.

In the magazine I found a very timely article on living with fatigue. There was also information on chair-based exercises, something my relative had been talking about the previous day. Not only that, the information about waist sizes and healthy snacks was just what I needed. I tend to reach for the healthiest looking option and then realise exactly how much fat and sugar is in it later!

Thank you for helping me and my family begin the new year in a positive way.

Alison Ottaway, Norwich

Don’t forget the donors

We lost our eldest son, Will, in 2016 when he was killed by a motorist while he was out cycling.

It’s impossible to describe the pain and heartache that the loss of a child brings to parents, family and friends. There are few things that can reduce the agony of losing a young man in his prime, but knowing that Will donated his heart, alongside seven other organs, bringing new life to eight people, is some consolation.

As parents, we desperately want Will’s life to continue to have meaning.

Liz and Richard Houghton, Buckinghamshire

As parents, we desperately want Will’s life to continue to have meaning, so hearing from the recipients themselves what a difference his donations have made to them and their families brings real comfort to us. Unfortunately, two and a half years after Will was killed we have heard from just two of the recipients of his young and healthy organs. I wanted to share my experience with Heart Matters readers to demonstrate that it is never too late to write to the family of the donor of your heart. You simply can’t overestimate how important it is to those who lost a family member to know the impact the organ has had. You can write anonymously and there is no need to do anything more.

Liz and Richard Houghton, Buckinghamshire

Heart Matters Editor Sarah Brealey says:

If you’ve had a transplant and would like to write to your donor’s family, visit the NHS Blood and Transplant website or call 0151 268 7063. 

Road to recovery

Steve against the backdrop of an African map

I read the Autumn 2018 issue and was inspired and educated, so I wanted to say thank you. I work in the medical field but am currently in hospital with personal health issues. The combination of readable information and inspiring stories was perfect.

I was completely taken aback and inspired by the gentleman you featured, Steve (pictured right) – what an incredible man showing the power of the mind and the body. Thank you for a wonderful read and inspiration to continue recovery too.

Natalie McCulloch, Vale of Glamorgan

Discussing dementia

I’ve just finished reading your latest issue of Heart Matters and I want to thank you for your articles on dementia. I am a mental health nurse and work with clients with a diagnosis of advanced dementia. I will be sharing these articles with students on our ward and use them as points for discussion. Well done to the team at Heart Matters.

Daniel Oudnarine, London

Praise for hospital workers

In October 2017, I had a silent heart attack. I thought I had indigestion. Had it not been for a very astute doctor, I would probably not be writing this letter. After an ECG, I was sent to West Suffolk Hospital, and ended up in intensive care as I had pneumonia, a urine infection and my heart was only pumping to half of its capacity. I spent a week trying to overcome both infections and was then given an angiogram. My heart was so bad, a triple bypass was the only option. While waiting I developed further complications, so I was sent to Lister Hospital in Stevenage. I was operated on in the Royal Papworth Hospital. In all three hospitals, the service, food, nurses, doctors and general staff were excellent. The staff showed respect to each and every patient, and deserve the highest praise. I still have chronic pins and needles, but I’m back playing bowls four days a week, golf once a week and walking Max, my border collie, two miles every day. Long may it continue. Thank you for your very well-produced and informative magazine. Not many magazines are a joy to read from cover to cover.

Ken Newman, Suffolk 

10 out of 10 for the NHS

After dinner one evening I felt cramp in the middle of my back. After a walk and some GTN spray the pain was getting worse. Perspiration was running down my face and neck. I live in sheltered accommodation so pulled the emergency cord and they called an ambulance. I called my friend Mike, who arrived within a couple of minutes.

I can only thank all the hospital staff, paramedics and ambulance crew for all they did.

Phil Lane, London
By this time, I was in a lot of pain and it was slowly climbing to my left shoulder and the top of my left arm. They arrived very quickly and Mike gave them my history. I was given morphine to relieve the pain and floated up to cloud nine. But Mike said the paramedics were amazing, and carried out further work in the ambulance before ‘blue lighting’ me to Hillingdon Hospital. On arrival, medical staff were waiting, and I was treated swiftly for what I found out was a severe angina attack. I woke at two in the afternoon the next day, and the drips and cannula had gone. I felt good. The nurse came to me with a really nice cup of tea; you don’t know how good it tasted. I can only thank all the hospital staff, paramedics and ambulance crew for all they did.

Phil Lane, London

An act of love

My friend Pat had a heart attack many years ago, and my friend Margaret had a ruptured aorta a year ago. I love both ladies and I was by their bedsides on both occasions armed with flowers and cards. But I wanted to do something more substantial. I contacted the BHF at the time of Pat’s heart attack and set up a standing order that continues today. I will never know if I or any more of my loved ones will need such expert services that Pat and Margaret received. May I humbly thank and applaud all the healthcare services that saved my two friends and encourage other friends, family and colleagues of people who have suffered similarly to consider donating. I see it as an act of love and honour for my two friends and an investment in others that I may never know.

Diane Undrell, Derbyshire

Shop with a smile

I just wanted to thank the staff and volunteers who run your Winsford shop. Whenever I deliver my items, there is always a cheery welcome and appreciation of my contribution. The BHF is a favourite charity of mine, increasingly so since a heart attack and triple bypass surgery five years ago. Thanks again.

Terry Duncan, Cheshire


We’ve had lots of great feedback on Heart Matters, especially since launching our new look last issue (pictured). Here’s what you said:

We have many publications from organisations we are interested in, but for the first time with any magazine, I ended up reading the summer issue of Heart Matters from cover to cover and not being able to put it down. Every article had something for me, which was extremely well presented, easy to understand, full of common sense, informative and relevant. Congratulations to you and all those involved in Heart Matters.

Terry Rands, Norfolk

I would just like to express my admiration for Heart Matters. I spent much of the weekend reading it all and found it very readable, helpful, informative and thoroughly impressive. As a long-term supporter of the BHF I was aware of some of what you do, but this added so much more. It should be compulsory reading for everyone! Thank you so much for all that you are doing.

Deb Wilson, Norwich

Secret super heroes

Superhero illustrationFirstly, let me say how much I admire the BHF, and I am an avid reader of Heart Matters. The stories of patients who run marathons, climb mountains or cycle 10km after heart surgery are very impressive.

However, have you considered all the patients like me, who could never do these things? I had triple bypass surgery in 2009 and since then I have gone on to develop deep vein thrombosis, atrial fibrillation, a leaking heart valve, oesophageal reflux, a hiatus hernia, an arthritic knee and shortness of breath.

I am not looking for sympathy – I consider myself lucky. However, if I tried to do any of those activities listed it would probably kill me. I agree with Sheila Davies, Barry Meldrum and Bruce Cripps who all say you shouldn’t feel sorry for yourself and should just enjoy life. I like to feel that, in my own way, I am achieving as much as the super heroes.

R G McLellan, Kent

Giving back

In 2016 (aged 72) I underwent an aortic valve replacement at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital. As part of my rehabilitation, I attended an eight-week course of instructive talks and gentle exercise at Wirral Heart Support Centre. I was then referred to a 12-week course of twice-weekly sessions in the rehabilitation gym, where my tailor-made exercise programme was monitored and adjusted. 

I would like to encourage your readers to consider becoming a volunteer in their area

I undertook a further 12-week exercise course at my local gym, supervised by a member of the cardiac rehab staff from St. Catherine’s Health Centre. As a result, I joined my local gym and, along with a sensible diet, I feel remarkably healthy. I am immensely grateful to all the staff involved with the surgery and especially the rehabilitation team at St. Catherine’s, and I wanted to give something back to show my appreciation.

I am now a volunteer in the rehabilitation gym two mornings a week – I help other cardiac patients. This has proved to be very rewarding.  I would like to encourage your readers to consider becoming a volunteer in their area.

Malcolm Guy, Wirral

Reader’s tip

Healthy hot drinksIt was really helpful to read about some of the healthy alternative drinks we can enjoy. We’d like to add three non-caffeine products that we regularly drink and can recommend to anyone looking for healthy alternatives to tea and coffee.

These drinks are reasonably priced and can usually be found online and at health shops. ‘No Caf’ is made from barley, figs and chicory. ‘Caro’ and ‘Barleycup’ are also made from roasted barley.

When you choose not to drink tea and coffee, it’s surprising how many other healthy beverages are available to discover and enjoy!

Les and June McWatt, Leicester

Never give up

The story of David Morgan was very similar to what I went through back in 1970. I had a heart murmur as a child but was still active. In my 20s, I was told there was a hole in my heart and I had to have open heart surgery.

The op was successful and I went on to live a very adventurous life. I married, had two children and am now a grandmother. I had no problems until 2016, when I picked up a virus that sent my heart into atrial fibrillation and I was rushed to hospital.

I thought: “That’s it for me now.” How wrong I was! On leaving hospital I was referred to the cardiac rehabilitation clinic to keep a check on me, help me understand my condition, and learn how to manage it. What a wonderful team. I am now enjoying life again and have been travelling abroad three times since then. I totally agree with what David Morgan says – “don’t give up”. I didn’t.

Maureen Bettison, Essex

Online comments

We shared Stewart Prosser’s story with you on Facebook. He was 45 when he suffered a heart attack.  Stewart hopes to reassure others that life can return to normal: “When you go through a heart attack, you don’t know what life will be like on the other side. I really did feel all at sea in terms of what I could and couldn’t do.” You said:

Don’t think life is over after heart problems, get on with your life and celebrate having one

  • Same here. I found the mental struggle harder than the physical comeback. Bernadette Rennie
  • My hubby had a major heart attack age 40, he was a very fit builder. He started getting chest pain and tiredness and after a couple of years, age 42, he had quadruple bypass surgery. It was a rough time for another year. This was 28 years ago. He was back at work until he retired age 62, and is still going strong after all these years. He will celebrate his 70th birthday this October. So don’t think life is over after heart problems, get on with your life and celebrate having one, many can’t. Joyce Walters

Making music

About 12 months ago, I was diagnosed with a heart problem and was offered an ICD by the cardiologist. I play the violin for pleasure, and this is a very large part of my life, so I was very concerned that this could be seriously affected.

Every violin (or viola) player will understand the possible conflict caused by holding the instrument firmly between the chin and the left shoulder, and a metallic lump stitched under the skin below the left collarbone. Most players use a shoulder rest, which is attached below the instrument, and which pads out the gap between chin and shoulder.

A violinI asked the consultant if the ICD could be placed on the right-hand side of the body, but he advised against this. I asked for a further meeting with the consultant to find a solution.

Before the meeting, my wife traced around the contact area of my shoulder rest, directly onto my skin. I took my violin to the meeting, and was able to demonstrate to the consultant the problem I foresaw. He was very understanding, and felt it should be possible to site the ICD close enough to the body centreline to avoid the contact area. I also attended the pre-op assessment with the arrhythmia nurse with the contact area traced onto my skin. She was brilliant; she took photos of the area and attached these to my hospital file. As a result, when I was admitted for the procedure, the consultant could see exactly where to avoid.

I had the procedure last August, and after six weeks I could resume playing. You can imagine my intense relief in finding the grip on my violin was not affected by the ICD. I am now enjoying music-making with friends every bit as much as before!

Brian M Barber, Worcester

Doctor knows best

Your feature Do you trust what your doctor tells you? attempts to explain the mistrust patients have of medical research. It is not surprising that anecdotal evidence from family and friends is favoured, regardless of a plethora of validated health information. This phenomenon is promoted by our daily dose of confusing research data and conflicting medical information in the press. Health campaigns also tend to be too broad and become unattractive compared to a casual face-to-face chat with your nearest and dearest.

If possible, medical advice should be made accessible according to individual preferences

If possible, medical advice should be made accessible according to individual preferences. It might be worth considering whether over-simplified 'one-for-all' health advice such as 'eat five portions of fruit and vegetables daily' may be a faux pas. I'd be interested in other readers' views.

Joan Body, Hounslow

Positive mental attitude

The story of my heart attack ("I never felt alone": Linda's story) appeared in Heart Matters in September 2014. A lot has happened since then.

When I was discharged from hospital I was given a big bag of medications, which I was told I would be taking for the rest of my life. I was determined that I was going to be fit and well and do whatever it took to avoid having another heart attack. I would diet, exercise, eat sensibly, and reduce stress – anything so that I wouldn’t have to depend on medication. And here I am, living proof that it does work.

Linda BartleHaving a positive mental attitude also goes a long way to being healthy and happy. All my life I had done things to help other people – in my job, voluntary work or in bringing up my daughter as a lone parent. Now it was time to focus on myself.

I retired from my job in 2016 and moved from Yorkshire to Lancashire. I live in a quiet village in the country, I have made lots of friends and this is where I will spend the rest of my days. I am engaged to be married and, at 67, I feel healthy, happy and content.

As I write I am at Westmorland General Hospital waiting for my fiancé, Robert, who is having an angiogram.I am praying he will get through this, just as I did. In the waiting room, I saw the other patients and their partners. They looked tired, worried and sad. I wanted to tell them not to worry.

I want Heart Matters readers to know that there really is light at the end of the tunnel. Never give up, keep fighting, and don’t forget positive mental attitude. It worked for me!

Linda Bartle, Lancashire 

Unlock support

Our online community is now at Whether you're living with heart and circulatory disease, supporting someone, or just want to learn more, it's a place to talk.

Kristin1812 said: How different we all are! I just read a few forum posts. Some people are running up hills before breakfast, others are searching around for a tiny drop of energy.

Over the last five years I’ve had three heart attacks and nine stents. Keeping my blood pressure and heart rate lower seems to deal fairly well with the unstable angina. I also have a leaky valve.

How different we all are! Some people are running up hills before breakfast, others are searching around for a tiny drop of energy

I thought I’d describe my day with heart disease. It’s pretty planned as I easily get exhausted or find myself doing too much, then need to sleep/rest for most of the next day. But most days I start with a fast walk or exercise class (three times a week), then might meet up with a friend. If I’m OK then, I go shopping or out for lunch with my husband.

Afternoons are spent resting, then perhaps gardening, painting, tidying up at home, and very occasionally I go out in the evening. It’s very different to my busy life pre-heart, but it’s what works for me now.

My message is: find out what works for you. I’ve had a difficult journey, ghastly depression, and the rollercoaster of repeat scares and treatments. It’s taken me ages to find this new balance.

Small changes count

Vegetarian shepherd's pie with polenta toppingI cannot thank you enough for the last edition of Heart Matters. My partner, Paul, had a heart attack five years ago and now has to watch his health very closely. It made me notice I had been eating very unhealthily. Being a full-time carer for my 94-year-old mother, I put myself last. However, I got my cholesterol checked and it was nine! After your last issue, I finally decided enough was enough – no more living unhealthily and feeling sluggish and exhausted all the time.

I would encourage anyone to start taking care of themselves no matter how young or old they may be

I have porridge for breakfast every morning, and have my 5-a-day most days. I also encouraged my mum to eat healthily too. I drink much more water and not so much coffee. I also decided to have a 15-minute walk every day. From exhaustion and a high cholesterol level, within a month my cholesterol went down to seven and I feel and look much better. I would encourage anyone to start taking care of themselves no matter how young or old they may be.

Thank you, not only for making me feel and look much younger and healthier, but possibly for saving our lives.

Catherine Hiscox, Hemel Hempstead

Running inspiration

Lawrence WoodleyHow inspiring to read about Lawrence Woodley still running at 81. I do enjoy reading your lifestyle articles and am particularly drawn to those stories about how people keep active. It’s pretty clear to me now that the link between physical activity and better health is strong. But I must admit, probably like many others, I don’t always find it easy to fit exercise into a busy week.

Lawrence provides good advice as he tells us not to make life complicated. I like the way he simply says that running is something he can do by himself without having to rely on anyone else – and can start from his back door! I ran as a teenager, but went through my 20s and 30s rarely running, then rediscovered this activity in my mid-40s. I’m not a marathon runner like Lawrence, but I do enjoy parkruns too, and try to fit another similar run in mid-week. Being able to run for several miles is quite therapeutic as your mind really relaxes, and I’m convinced this is good for us both physically and mentally.

Keep on running Lawrence and I’ll try too!

Paul Boyle, Eastbourne

Why do I need a ‘responsible adult’?

I was given a letter before an angiogram that informed me – a single male pensioner – that after being discharged I “must have a responsible adult stay with me overnight”. I was informed it was because if there was a medical emergency, someone could call 999.

I strongly objected to this and made a complaint, because it’s insensitive to insist someone should have to ask a friend or relative to stay with them overnight. What if you ask and they refuse, or you don’t have anywhere for them to sleep?

I am concerned this instruction is being sent to other people after a medical procedure, causing concern and anxiety, especially to older single people

Soon after, I had surgery for something else, and was again informed I “must have a responsible adult stay with me overnight” after discharge. I know I’m not the only person to find this difficult. If someone needs this, they should be kept in hospital overnight.

It was only after I refused treatment on both occasions that the instruction has been removed from the angiogram letter, but I am concerned this instruction is being sent to other people after a medical procedure, causing concern and anxiety, especially to older single people. I wanted to pass on my experience in case it is helpful to other readers.

Dennis Franklin, Ramsgate

Reader’s tip

Having tried your chia and berry ‘jam’ [one of our 5 healthy toast toppings] I have a suggestion for readers. The ‘jam’ can be quite bland, so to overcome this, other fruits can be added (I like kiwi). The ‘jam’ can also be used as an easy topper, for example on porridge or low-sugar oats for breakfast. Also, it can be used on low-fat yoghurt as an excellent and healthy dessert.

Christine Hinds, Essex

Senior Dietitian Victoria Taylor replies:

We’re glad you tried our lower-sugar ‘jam’ recipe. For those who missed it: soak around 20g of chia seeds in four tablespoons of water, mix with 150g of your favourite berries or cherries, then blend. Eat straight away or refrigerate for up to three days.

Vegetarian shepherd's pie with polenta toppingHealthy recipes

My cooking skills are rather basic, so l have to say thank you for the vegetarian shepherd’s pie with polenta topping recipe in the Autumn issue. I cooked it successfully! It was delicious.

Do you have previous vegetarian recipes we can try?

Pippa Reid, Middlesex

Heart Matters Editor Sarah Brealey says:

Thanks Pippa, we’re glad you enjoyed it. Find all Heart Matters recipes in our online recipe finder - choose the vegetarian filter to find more tasty dishes to try.

Shopping saviour

I am always overwhelmed when I read your magazine and see how the funds from the shops help so many people

All BHF shops and staff are brilliant, but in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, we have the most amazing guy – an Australian called Paul. I have called in regularly over the years and he is so consistently informative, helpful and friendly. He never fails to thank you for donations, offer new bags, note your postcode, and remind you that donations can be collected. All retailers should take note – shopping would be much more of a pleasure.

Thank you to all shops and staff for doing a wonderful job. I am always overwhelmed when I read your magazine and see how the funds from the shops help so many people.

Angela Wills, Mansfield

Visit our new online community

Our online community has now moved to Whether you’re living with heart disease, supporting a family member or friend, or just want to find out more about heart and circulatory disease, it is a space for you to get support and talk with people in the same position.

Timd61 said:

I had a double heart bypass back in April and I followed the hospital gym recuperation programme [cardiac rehabilitation] which was fantastic and well supported by the physio and especially the heart nurses that attended each session. The NHS has been fantastic for me during this stressful time.

After doing the course, I was given the opportunity to join a council-run gym at a reduced rate for three months, which I did.

Since my bypass, I have managed to lose two stone and I have started – and nearly completed – the Couch to 5K challenge, and feel so good in myself, health/mind-wise. I can now jog for 28 minutes and next week will look to do a 30-minute jog.

I now eat breakfast every day, eat smaller and healthier meals and do lots of exercise (a swear word before my op). I feel so good in myself and I just want people to believe in themselves and keep going. If I can do all these things, everyone can.

It takes time

Following an angiogram in November 2015, the doctor frightened the hell out of me by telling me I would need a triple heart bypass as soon as possible (I was only expecting an increase in my statin medication).

Four months later, I was admitted to Derriford Hospital for what turned out to be a quadruple heart bypass. The surgeon and the people who looked after me there were brilliant, showing their skill and genuine care. But I hadn’t realised that surgery of this nature can knock your entire body for six, and it takes time to recover. I am trying to get back to my ‘normal’ self, whatever normal is – I have forgotten! It may sound all doom and gloom, but I am really quite fit considering it’s a challenging time.

I hadn’t realised that surgery of this nature can knock your entire body for six

Recently, I have felt the need to get into a more disciplined routine. I practise yoga three times a week, hit a golf ball or two at the local range twice a week, and have returned to my guitar tuition. All three together are helping put me back together.

Getting back to my normal self has not been the quick fix I expected, but I am getting there. I am 78, and my message to anyone who has had heart surgery is: you will get there in your body’s own time, just work on it.

Tony Bunce, Camborne

A couple dancingSquare dancing

The letter from Zoe Bremer about dancing is so right. Square dancing is a great way to exercise the body and mind. I had a heart attack in 2001 at 51, followed by a quadruple bypass, and square dancing has helped me on my road to recovery. I think of it as fun and friendship to music, and now at 67 I am still dancing at my local club in Coventry. Readers should visit the British Association of American Square Dancing Clubs website for local clubs.

Rob Dormer, Coventry

Lucky moments

I read with interest your summer issue, especially the Star Letter (from Phil McCulloch). I had my own ‘lucky’ moment when I was walking home with my fiancée and 18-month-old son. I suddenly collapsed and had a cardiac arrest in a small alley. Fortunately, opposite us there was a worker on the new stand at our local soccer club. He ran over and started CPR, while my fiancée ran to the doctors nearby and a woman walking her dog rang the paramedics. My doctor and nurse ran down with the necessary equipment to take over before the paramedics arrived. I was lucky that people could help in a quiet alley. CPR is something everybody should know and would only take a short time to teach children in schools. My experience shows that anybody can know how to react in an emergency.

Spencer Broadley, Redhill

Heart Matters Editor Sarah Brealey replies:

We’re so happy to hear that you, like the star letter-writer from our Summer issue, were saved by a passer-by who knew CPR. We want to see CPR on the curriculum for all secondary schools and we offer free CPR training kits for secondary schools.

  • Find out more about CPR or call 0300 3303300

Getting active

I have been a keen walker and cyclist for many years. About six years ago I became unwell and had to give up cycling for a short time to have a mitral valve repair. Before going in to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for the procedure I tried my best to keep as fit as possible by walking every day. I had a successful operation and was cared for by a wonderful team and I am happy to say that I recovered rather well, thank God.

I would urge anyone and everyone to get out there, even if it’s only walking short distances

I truly believe that being fairly fit and active helped me not only to recover from the operations but it gave me a fighting chance in the first instance. I would urge anyone and everyone to get out there, even if it’s only walking short distances. You’ll be surprised by how much better it can make you feel.

David McGuire, Edinburgh

Jason GutridgeSource of support

At Christmas 2013 after breaking up from school (I was a teaching assistant, aged 63), I went out for a meal with friends, but was sick at home that evening. With just a few days until Christmas, and so much left to do, I carried on but got slower and slower. By Christmas Eve I gave up and went to bed feeling unwell and in pain. On 27 December the doctor came out, and sent me to hospital. I had left it too late for stents, and was diagnosed with heart failure and angina, and they increased my meds to 16 tablets a day.

Now, I really look forward to your magazine, there is always something relevant to me. Jason Gutridge’s story (pictured) on the psychology of recovery was spot on.

Thank you, from the bottom of my half-heart.

Joan Harvey, Middlesbrough

Air pollution

I have greatly appreciated all your articles in the last couple of years about the link between air pollution and heart disease. Three years ago I had a heart attack only a few months after a general health check considered me low risk – no family history, generally fit and not overweight. So why me?

Three years ago I had a heart attack only a few months after a general health check considered me low risk

For three years from 1990, I lived in Kathmandu (Nepal) – which has excessively high air pollution – and cycled to work most days, often following diesel trucks belching black smoke. Returning to the UK, I then lived a mile from Heathrow and the M25 for 18 years. Now it all makes sense.

I’m now retired in the much cleaner environment of Wiltshire, very grateful to all who treated and helped me through the attack, and for your magazine for helping me understand why this happened and keeping me in touch with the latest developments.

Trevor Durston, Chippenham

Heart Matters Features Editor Lucy Trevallion replies:

We’re glad to hear you’re on the mend. If you haven’t already seen it, you might be interested to watch our short animation about why air pollution is a problem.

Reader’s tip

I read Katherine Scholfield’s letter asking for tips about bell ringing with a heart condition. I learnt to ring tower bells in 1993 and had a quadruple heart bypass in November 2012 after being diagnosed with coronary heart disease. Katherine, my tips would be: explain to your ringing master the operation that you have had. Don’t be shy, as sharing your illness is beneficial to us all. When on a ‘new’ bell turn it over before you start to ring, to ensure that you get the ‘feel’ of the rope. Don’t be brave – go to a lighter bell if necessary.

Allan S Carter, Harrow

Feeling lucky

The back of an ambulance

I was walking to a friend’s house when I suffered a cardiac arrest. What are the chances of an off-duty paramedic driving past at that moment? Straight away, she started giving me CPR and called for the ambulance. To restore my heart to its normal rhythm I was shocked with a defibrillator and taken to Jersey General Hospital. After two days I was flown by air ambulance to John Radcliffe Hospital where I was fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).

If it was not for this woman, who I call my guardian angel, I would not be writing this story. Her skill and professionalism saved my life. Jersey is the type of island where you’re always bumping into people and I often see her and give her the biggest hug. My life now could not be better. I have fully recovered and I am so lucky to still be in contact with my guardian angel.

Phil McCulloch, Jersey

Heart Matters Editor Sarah Brealey replies:

That’s wonderful that a passer-by saved your life. Most people who have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest don’t survive, which is why the BHF is working hard to create a Nation of Lifesavers – you don’t have to be a paramedic to do CPR. 

Reader’s tip

I am going to love trying your new ways to eat my porridge oats, as I eat them all year round. I’m currently enjoying it with fresh fruit, a teaspoon of coconut oil, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a good pinch of cayenne pepper. It gives you a nice gentle glow to face a chilly day.

Jacqueline Wilkin, Frome

Victoria Taylor, BHF Senior Dietitian, says:

“Porridge is a great base for all sorts of flavour combinations. The cayenne and cinnamon are great ideas for adding flavour without needing extra sugar or salt. As coconut oil is high in saturated fat, a spoonful of low-fat Greek yoghurt or a teaspoon of no-added-salt-and-sugar nut butter would be good alternatives to give the porridge some extra creaminess, but with less saturated fat.”

Bell ringing after heart surgery

Church bells

Are any Heart Matters readers also bell ringers? I would welcome any experience or advice on returning to ringing after heart problems

In October 2016 I had heart bypass surgery. In January this year, after a collapse, I had a pacemaker implanted. A week later I had a catheter ablation to treat an irregular heart rhythm. I’m now looking forward to getting back to ringing.

Katherine Scholfield, Wakefield

Christopher Allen, BHF Senior Cardiac Nurse, says:

“As bell ringing involves the person lifting their arms above their head to pull the bell, it would be appropriate to wait until the sternum is fully healed before returning to it, which is at least 12 weeks after surgery if things have gone well. We would recommend completing a cardiac rehab programme. The staff at the programme can also advise on whether it’s OK for you to resume the activity.”

If you have any tips for Katherine, email Heart Matters and we’ll pass it on to her.

Time to dance

In response to George Illsley’s letter about folk dancing, I would like to add that it’s never too late to take up such an activity, but it’s also never too early. I began square dancing at the age of 13 and am still involved 45 years later.

These clubs would love to welcome more young adults, and could be especially helpful to those with chronic health problems who are looking for a safe activity in a supportive environment.

I would also like to add that I suffered a stroke four years ago and returned to my local square dance club five weeks later. Although the exercise was both mentally and physically demanding, I found it to be of immense benefit to my recovery.

Zoe Bremer, Nottingham 

Cycling around the world

My husband has always enjoyed cycling. Even as a teenager, it was a favourite way of relaxing at weekends, touring around the lovely scenery of Scotland. 

A bike at a scenic spot on the roadside

Five years ago, he had a triple heart bypass at Papworth Hospital. As he recovered, he decided he would get his fitness back by keeping his cycling going, but decided he needed a challenge. He had read a book by a young guy who had cycled around the world, and thought: "Now there's a challenge!"

Obviously, for many reasons, it was not practical to do the actual trip, but in miles he could! Only a couple of months after his operation, he was back on his bike, doing what he could manage safely. Five years later, he has been out almost every day, building up the distances, usually from home and occasionally on holiday when we took our bikes with us. 

We have been married almost 52 years; my husband is 75 now. In the five years since his operation, he has clocked up almost 18,000 miles. A couple of months and he hopes to have completed his 'round the world trip'. I too had a heart operation, a valve replacement and single bypass, three years before my husband, and have a pacemaker. I accompany him sometimes on trips around Norfolk, but certainly can't match his fitness - or motivation!

I am immensely proud of his achievements, and would say to anyone else facing heart operations: "Nothing's impossible!"

Stella Carslaw, Norwich

Egg issues

I'm fed up with the way the BHF constantly censures fried food as the devil's work, while promoting other ways of cooking as super virtuous.

Take page nine in the Winter issue of the magazine, for example. "The BHF says: Eggs are nutrition... Poached eggs on wholegrain toast is much healthier than a fry-up."

Eggs can be fried with very little fat

A 'fry-up' conjures up a vision of the typical greasy spoon on the A20, doesn't it? But eggs can be fried with very little fat. A quarter-teaspoon of avocado oil in a small pan is perfectly sufficient to fry an egg in, especially if you put a lid on the pan to allow the steam to help cook it. It still tastes like a proper fried egg, though! To write off fried eggs as if they are somehow deadly dangerous is a bit silly, in my view.

Michael Mitchell, Spalding, Lincolnshire

Our Senior Dietitian Victoria Taylor replies:

Thank you for your letter. When we used the term 'fry-up' we were referring not only to fried eggs, but describing a traditional fried breakfast including, for example, sausages, bacon and black pudding. Collectively this makes a breakfast that's high in calories, salt and saturated fat.

It's true that eggs cooked as you describe would be consistent with a heart-healthy diet, and we could also have said that eggs poached or fried in a little unsaturated oil on wholegrain toast are healthier than a fry-up. 

Healthy pies and pasties

A plate of pastiesI was interested in your article 'Have your pie & eat it' (Winter 2016/17). I now make many pies and pasties using ordinary bread dough instead of pastry. I make it from scratch, but you could use packet bread mix (choose one which is lower in salt) and use a tablespoon of olive oil in the dough to help it stretch. Let it rise once, then roll out thinly over your dish. It doesn't need an extra rise. You can glaze as usual.

I find that the amount of dough for one bread roll can be used to make a decent-sized pasty, which I fill with lots of veg and beans.

Mary Bendall, Worcestershire

Reader’s tip

I always have a bag of frozen mixed berries in the freezer. Add some to the fresh fruit of your choice, to make an extra healthy and luxurious crumble, especially if the topping includes chopped nuts, oats and seeds.

Margaret Wragg, Altrincham, Cheshire

The evolving NHS

Readers may be interested to hear about the changes in the care of heart patients that I find impressive.

I had a heart attack in January 1995 and was whisked off for the standard treatment in those days - a clot-busting drug (thrombolysis). I needed further investigation, so was put on the waitlist for an angiogram, eventually rising to the top. As a result, I had an angioplasty in April 1997.

I started getting involved in patient and public representation groups

This chain of events gave me an interest in cardiology and I started getting involved in patient and public representation groups.

It was in this role a few years ago that I was involved with the introduction of primary percutaneous coronary intervention (angioplasty) in my local area. This was a new treatment for heart attack patients that saw them taken straight to the operating room for an angiogram and subsequent treatment. Our target time between the logging of the ambulance call and the patient being in the hospital with everything ready to go was 120 minutes, shorter than the then national target of 150 minutes. 

So the patient journey that had taken me more than two years is now being accomplished in two hours - a startling achievement for the NHS.

John Walsh, Swindon

Statins and grapefruit

Fresh grapefruits and grapefruit juiceThe Winter 2016/17 edition of Heart Matters has several references to statins. [The healthy cooking article suggests "balanced meals" and includes "half a grapefruit".]

I have been taking statins for more than 10 years. The leaflet with my latest supply explains: "Grapefruit juice contains one or more components that alter how the body uses some medicinal products, including simvastatin film-coated tablets. Consuming grapefruit juice should be avoided."

Please include some information on statins and grapefruit in your next edition.

John Bowers, Gwynedd

Heart Matters Medical Editor Maureen Talbot replies:

Thank you for your letter. You are correct that grapefruit and grapefruit juice interact with simvastatin, increasing its level in your blood, and should be avoided if you are taking this statin. Large quantities of grapefruit juice can interact with atorvastatin, but the occasional glass of grapefruit juice, or half a grapefruit, is thought to be safe.

Currently, healthcare professionals advise it is safe to drink grapefruit juice and eat grapefruit if you're taking other types of statins.

Running after recovery

I am 56 years old and in late 2015 I was suffering with bad chest pains and severe breathlessness when I was out walking my dog. I, like many men, ignored the pain until I was advised to see my GP. I had two ECGs, which were clear, but as a precaution I was sent for a heart scan and an angiogram. 

I am now back walking my dog and doing lots of gym work

Astonishingly, the angiogram found I needed a quadruple bypass, as my arteries were 95 per cent blocked. 

In July 2016 I had surgery and am now back at work. The care I received from the staff at Castle Hill Hospital near Hull was phenomenal and I am now back walking my dog and doing lots of gym work. 

This year I'm planning to take part in the Great North Run and raise some worthy funds for the BHF. Anyway, here's to the BHF and all the researchers - keep working hard!

Martin Wood, East Riding, Yorkshire

Information and inspiration

Isle of Wight coastline

I have found your magazine to be very interesting and full of knowledge that helps me to promote information and exercise to my over-50s exercise class, many with high blood pressure. Your Autumn issue included so much information on high blood pressure and how to prevent it that I have forwarded it on to my class.

Recently, I had some bad news that my father has to have heart valve surgery. This inspired me and my close friend of 50 years, Sue White, both 54 years old, to set out to walk the 68-mile coastal path on the Isle of Wight in aid of the BHF. It was the most beautiful scenery that we have seen. I also ran an exercise class where I collected £257.50, which was donated after our walk.

This week my father had a repair and replacement of two heart valves, at St George’s Hospital in Tooting – an amazing hospital. I can’t thank the staff enough for what they have done. He is doing really well.

I will continue to support your charity for the great work that you do.

Sue Scarlett, Fleet, Hampshire

Dancing delight

The Autumn 2016 issue was my first Heart Matters, and what a delight to find, at last, a magazine that is promoting folk dancing. I went folk dancing in the YHA when I was 20 years of age, and am still doing it aged 88. I taught my wife-to-be, and could go sometimes three times a week. My wife Brenda is now in a nursing home and I was unlucky in June to have a heart attack.

Now the folk dancing season has started again, I want to get to dances, even if I have to sit one or two out and just listen to the lovely music. I hope my article will get some members interested.

George Illsley, Coventry

Flying high after heart problems

Person parachute jumping in blue sky

I wanted to send you this letter to give other people encouragement. I have had heart problems in the past and ended up going to A&E on three occasions.

This was three years ago and my health is improving. I lost weight, exercise at a cardio group, and go swimming and walking. I now feel healthier than I used to – so much so that I did a tandem parachute jump in Wiltshire. My age (I’m 70) wasn’t a handicap.

I hope this information will give some hope to others. It takes time, but little by little it can be achieved.

Pam Hawker, Portland

My father died in 1984, aged 66, of a heart attack. In 2005 I was first diagnosed with aortic stenosis [narrowing of a heart valve] and went on to have a new mechanical valve and single bypass. I suffered with atrial fibrillation twice since, but I’m now OK, though I still have high blood pressure.

I’ve been on a six-week cardiac rehab course supplied by the NHS, which was really good. My overall care by all concerned at the NHS has been fantastic. The operation did not worry me, I was just so grateful that this is now available, as I may have suffered the same fate as my dear dad.

Nicholas Wells, Reading

I became a survivor of a heart attack 16 years ago, which left me with some of my heart muscle dead or dying, and for the first two or three months I felt as if I would never recover my fitness.

I have now worked for the last 16 years with no sick days

I have now worked for the last 16 years with no sick days and feel better than I did in 2000. I was told at the time that, for every stone I was overweight, my heart had to work much harder. So I began a regime of three miles’ walking per day, listening to my favourite music via headphones. I’m still here and still walking.

Many thanks for Heart Matters, it’s a great source of information.

Philip Parkinson, Newcastle upon Tyne

Thoughtful stories

The Symonds family

I find Heart Matters highly informative and an enjoyable read. I like in particular the personal stories about people who have gone through heart-related issues.

In the Autumn edition, the article about Anna and Edward Symonds was intelligent and poignant. The deeply thoughtful and honest account of what must have been an incredibly traumatic experience for the Symonds family brought home to me, to some degree at least, just what this family must have gone through, and I certainly wish them all the very best for the future.

Paul Boyle, Brighton

Statin alternatives

In April 1994 I had a double bypass and was put on statins. In the course of a post-operational consultation with my surgeon some months later, he informed me that the statins I was on were having an adverse effect on my liver and switched me to a different type of statin. This did not solve the problem. As a result I was taken off statins and prescribed a cholestyramine powder, to be taken twice daily. This seems to be effective and I have suffered no ill-effects taking this and other medications all these years.

I am active and in my 90s, playing golf and visiting a gym twice weekly. It is a shame that the many critical articles about statins fail to point out that alternatives are available.

Ralph Gartenberg, Pinner, Middlesex

Tricycle fan

A silhouette of a tricycle

I was delighted to read the Star Letter from Ted Clark in your Summer 2016 issue of Heart Matters about the benefits he gets from his electrically assisted cycle. I am also a keen tricycle rider, though mine is manually powered, as the local area is quite flat and a motor isn’t necessary. I no longer have the balance for a bike, but I love my trike, which is so much easier for me to ride.

I have written many, many letters to publications about the health benefits of riding a tricycle for those who cannot handle a bike. Sadly not a single one has been published (although I’ve had many published on other topics). It does seem as if people are embarrassed to mention trikes when it comes to cycling. They aren’t just for cranks or children, but are a wonderfully safe and stable form of transport. I’ve developed severe arthritis in my hip and my trike is my lifeline.

It does seem as if people are embarrassed to mention trikes when it comes to cycling. They aren’t just for cranks or children, but are a wonderfully safe and stable form of transport.

My weekly shopping comes home on the back of my trike, and I use it for all my local errands and visits. My nearest bus stop is too far for me to walk to easily, so it’s a no-brainer. It gives me my much needed daily exercise.

Every week when I am out and about someone asks me about my trike and where they can buy one, but very few actually seem to follow this through. I’m one of just three ‘trikists’ in my town. They really do deserve to be more popular.

Thanks for a great magazine.

Andrea McCulloch, Newton Aycliffe, County Durham

I've been given a second chance 

In July 2007, aged 55, I received coronary artery bypass grafting to bypass two completely blocked arteries. Seven weeks earlier I didn’t feel unwell, but thought that five days of heartburn was unusual, so went off to the doctor who organised a treadmill test and was referred for an angiogram. The consultant calmly informed me that I needed a twin (possibly triple) bypass by open heart surgery. All went well thanks to the amazing team. The recovery plan followed and I was back to work after 12 weeks.

What I’d like to say is: don’t feel afraid to try things after your operations. Keep your spirits high and surround yourself with people who will give you a boost. Finally, when you wake up every day, be grateful that you’ve been given a second chance.

Don’t feel afraid to try things after your operations. Keep your spirits high and surround yourself with people who will give you a boost.

I slowly ventured back into exercise with football, swimming and walking, then as the years went by and I felt so lucky, I started bigger tasks. These included walking the Birmingham Half Marathon with my son, being the support driver for a team undertaking the three peaks challenge in 24 hours, and this last weekend I was the support driver for my son and his mates for the coast to coast cycle route.

Keep up the good work and research, Heart Matters and BHF.

Graham Skinner, Ulverston, Cumbria


Comments online

We shared David Morgan's story on Facebook. David became the first fighter pilot with a hole in his heart. Here are some of your comments:

  • Well done David. I had a VSD operated successfully at the age of 12. I've led a 'normal' life. I work in a very busy hospital; my work is very physically demanding and at times stressful. My two daughters are frown and I enjoy time with my granddaughter. I now have atrial fibrillation, aortic regurgitation and a small VSD. Always live your life to the full and listen to your body, you'd be surprised at what you can achieve. Caroline Theresa Mullen
  • What an inspiration, I will show my five-year-old son this. He has a very similar condition to David. He will soon have his third open heart surgery. He loves all types of planes and space rockets! Sophie Calvert
  • What an amazing story and such an inspiration. David's story is very similar to mine - same diagnosis, same open heart operation and a catheter ablation to correct heart rhythm problems. And his last comment rings very true too... "Don't give up" :-) Mike Owen

We shared Barry Meldrum’s story on Facebook. Barry has lived with a pacemaker for 30 years, but says: “You don’t have to let your heart condition dictate how your life and career pan out.”

Here are just a few of your comments:

  • All the best to you. I’ve had a pacemaker now for just over a year and I am very grateful to the great care by our NHS and the invaluable research of the BHF. Fiona Carrigan 
  • That’s inspiring. I have just started pacing 100% [which means the heart is completely dependent on the pacemaker] and have been so anxious and worried. Barry’s approach to life is brilliant. Jill Reed
  • I had a double valve replacement last June then a pacemaker fitted in July. It doesn’t have to rule your life. Wouldn’t have been here to see my first grandchild born without it. Michaela Turner