How a vegan came to terms with animal research

Richard Mindham

A heart failure diagnosis led vegan Richard Mindham to question his attitudes to animal research.

Troubled by constant exhaustion, Richard Mindham put it down to the pressures of work.

His job selling and managing for a software organisation demanded extensive travel to the Middle East and Africa. He was spending more than 240 days of the year abroad. “My private life had been subsumed by my job,” says Richard, 58. “I decided to make a change.”

At the same time, Richard’s wife Bridget, 53, took a sabbatical. Observing a lethargic Richard sitting at the kitchen table “day after day”, she asked him to see a doctor.

Richard’s GP referred him to a cardiologist in September 2007, who performed an echocardiogram. This showed that Richard had heart failure as a result of a previously undiagnosed underlying condition, dilated cardiomyopathy.

Knowledge is power

Richard describes his diagnosis as devastating. “We were going to go cycling in Argentina and Chile over Christmas, but the cardiologist told me: ‘You’re not going on that holiday; you’re not going very far from this hospital until I see some significant improvement,’” he says. “It seemed everything had changed. It hit me that I might need a heart transplant and that I’ll be on drugs for the rest of my life.”

If I’d been born 15 years earlier, I might not be benefiting from the medicines I’m on now

Part of Richard’s way of coping was to arm himself with as much information as possible about his condition. He put himself forward as a patient representative for the NICE guideline for chronic heart failure and joined a patient group of people living with heart failure at Royal Brompton Hospital’s research centre.

“We are introduced to trials and review them and make any recommendations that may have a bearing on a patient’s involvement in a trial or similar. For example, we recommended that where people are invited to multiple sessions at the hospital, they try and structure the sessions in a sequence so that people go straight from one to another and aren’t waiting around in corridors.”

Clinical trial

Richard MindhamThe Royal Brompton asked Richard to sit in on a clinical trial it is running jointly with the BHF, exploring how a chronically weakened heart muscle may be improved in people with heart failure.

Through this, Richard learnt that previous investigations, which had made this trial possible, involved animal testing. It prompted him to consider his attitudes.

“I come down on the side of it being acceptable to use animals in research, providing their treatment is compassionate and seeks to avoid suffering and where the use of higher species is minimised,” he says. “I can accept the use of animals where remedies are sought for diseases that cause considerable distress to humankind.”

Recently, Richard spoke about his concerns at an open day at Imperial College London, where he says he learned more about animal testing. 

Richard believes research is fundamental to the fight against heart disease. “It challenges your view of things if you’re taking a tablet and, potentially, research involving animals has been involved in the preparation of that tablet,” he says. “If I’d been born 15 years earlier, I might not be benefiting from the medicines I’m on now.”

The medications he takes allow Richard to manage his condition well. “I did go on that cycling holiday, five years later, and I go skiing,” he says.

He’s also completed a cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats with Bridget and describes his current life as “great”.

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