I’ve always kept myself fit, going to the gym two to three times a week. I’m also a keen cyclist. I had a healthy diet and wasn’t overweight. So the possibility of a heart attack was the last thing on my mind. But that is just what happened four years ago when I was 52 years old.
On the 19th May 2012, the morning of my heart attack, I’d felt an odd type of pain, like trapped wind.
I took painkillers and by midday was feeling a bit better so I set off with a mate on a 44 mile cycle from Portadown to Newry and back. However, as we cycled, the trapped wind became worse. I know you can’t have “trapped wind” down your arm but that’s exactly what it felt like. It was making my left arm feel increasingly uncomfortable.
I was holding my arm in different positions, waving it around to try to get some relief. Of course my friend noticed this strange behaviour and asked if everything was okay.
We stopped at a shop in a wee village to buy indigestion tablets but I couldn’t find any so just bought half a pint of milk instead.
The milk didn’t make any difference so after only 9 miles of the cycle, my friend convinced me to return home. We took a short cut to get home quicker but it involved a 3 mile hill climb which was tough.
Doctors later told me that I was lucky I turned back when I did and I had a good level of fitness because, had I continued, I could have gone into full cardiac arrest in the middle of the countryside and it may have been too late.
When I got home, even though the pain was getting worse, my plan was to watch the Heineken Cup Final followed by the Champions League Final! My wife Collette wasn’t at home but my sister Janice was there.
She reminded me that Dad had suffered angina and, it took a lot of convincing, but she persuaded me to go to the Craigavon Area Hospital.
I had an ECG and different tests and injections. I wanted to go home and watch the matches but they wouldn’t let me and admitted me instead. By this stage I had realised it was not indigestion but I thought it was probably a pulled muscle, so it was quite a surprise when the doctors told me it was a heart attack.
I’d been having a heart attack while out cycling, complaining of “trapped wind”! I was given one stent in the left hand side of my heart, followed by a second one in the back of my heart 3 months later.
The doctors told me to thank my sister for making me go to hospital before it became any worse, as well as my mate who got me home from the cycle.
The cardiologists who took care of me extremely well and the team that ran the Cardiac Rehab were excellent. The Cardiac Rehab was a vital part of my recovery. Within two weeks I was able to walk again and two months later I was back cycling.
I now cycle 150–170 miles per week with the Portadown Cycling Club. Along with the club, I raise money for Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke, so that they can fight heart disease through research and making sure people like me know more about it.
I want people to realise that just because you are young and able doesn’t mean you are not a candidate. Make sure you know the symptoms of a heart attack and if you ever start feeling them, don’t reach for the TV remote control to watch the match as I almost did, reach for the phone and dial 999.