My life has changed: Robert Wade has made a full recovery after doctors found plaque around his heart and he had a stent implanted to remove it.  *Photo by Sarah Lagan
My life has changed: Robert Wade has made a full recovery after doctors found plaque around his heart and he had a stent implanted to remove it. *Photo by Sarah Lagan
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Heart Month is almost at an end but our awareness of the heart disease should remain high. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Bermuda and the large majority of this is preventable through lifestyle choices. According to the hospital’s figures there were about 650 visits for heart related concerns seen in the ER and UCC over a year period from April 2011 to March 2012. There were also over 400 cases of people receiving inpatient care for heart related problems. To help keep awareness high in our minds, the Bermuda Sun’s Sarah Lagan spoke to two men who had suffered heart-related injuries. We hope their first hand experience will encourage us all to be make better choices about our lifestyle and be diligent about getting the appropriate check with our medical professionals.


 

Both Robert Wade and Jack Chiappa were leading relatively normal lives, completely unaware that they were at risk of falling victim to the island’s most deadly killer — heart disease.

They went about their daily lives with no major physical problems when all of a sudden, everything changed.

Having turned 65 in August, Robert, a retired engineer, decided to go for a regular physical. To his surprise, his doctor told him he would like him to have an Echo (a sonogram of the heart) to check the health of his heart. Despite feeling perfectly healthy, it was discovered that his heart was beating too fast and that his blood pressure was too high.

He then had to go to the Brown and Darrell Clinic for an X-ray which confirmed the bad news — Robert’s heart was surrounded by plaque — a condition that can lead to a heart attack if left to build up. Following a stress test Robert’s doctor looked at the result and told him to go by the hospital right away as he needed to talk with him.

“It really scared me and when he said I had to go away. Him and a nurse sat me down and explained everything to me such as if I had to have a bypass — they showed me everything.

“After that I made an appointment, my wife made the arrangements for me to get a plane ticket and get out of the island as soon as possible. When I did get an appointment with Johns Hopkins, I had to be up there on the Friday morning appointment at 6am. The nurses and the heart specialists and surgeon who was going to do the operation. The surgeon asked me if I had anything to say. The only thing I had to say is ‘I am a Christian, and I’m going to leave it with you and God. Then they took me away.’

Keeping faith

“It really made me worry it was my first experience I was really afraid. Keeping my faith got me through.”

Following a few tests it was agreed that they should be able to clear the artery, which was 85 per cent clogged, with a coronary stent — a mesh tube that is used to treat narrow or weak arteries.

Robert was one of the lucky ones — the day after he had the stent he said he felt like a new man.

“I felt so good. I felt like leaving the hospital. Before I was kind of down because I didn’t know what would happen.

“I can tell you this much it has changed my life. I am making sure I am exercising, I am making sure I am eating the proper foods. Before I never done that. I was eating a lot of mayonnaise, a lot of greasy, fatty foods. When they explained to me exactly what was wrong they sent me to a nutritionist she got me on a nice diet plan and I walk every day.

“I walk 40 minutes every morning. I am eating a lot of vegetables, try not to eat too much fried food, more boiled food, and fish — I don’t eat red meat. I feel 100 per cent.”

Asked what advice he would give to the public about keeping a check on their hearts Robert said: “I would say to anybody, especially men, I would say to them don’t be scared of a doctor for a start. I used to be afraid going to the doctor I’m not afraid anymore. I’d tell any man — if he is not getting his check, get his check ups! It all happened with me just going to get a check up.

“It changed my life and I am very serious. My family stuck beside me — thank god for my wife Jean she stuck right beside me. I am also grateful to Dr Griffiths — he was the one that suggested get the Echo and all that there.”

Jack Chiappa, 70, suffered congestive heart failure in Bermuda and was treated both abroard and locally before being referred twice to cardiac rehabilitation.  

Smoker

Jack has type 2 diabetes and his condition was not helped by the fact that he was a heavy smoker, in turn increasing his risk of heart failure.

He had been renovating the old homestead and had been doing some heavy duty landscaping when he started to feel a little peculiar. He drove the short distance from Spanish Point to Paget and when he got home his health took a turn for the worse. Feeling faint he went to lie down on the couch and his wife Pat saw that he was perspiring heavily — a sign of an oncoming heart attack — and he was losing colour in his face.

She called the ambulance right away and Jack’s brother Keith who is a chief of medicine at the hospital. At the hospital, doctors confirmed their worse fears — he was having a heart attack and would need to be flown out to Lahey Clinic in Boston right away.

Jack said he had very little recollection of what had happened.

“I remember getting off the plane in Boston and remember it was raining and  I was getting wet but that’s all I remember. They gave me something that must have knocked me out. I had had no pain — no nothing, I just felt faint.”

He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure which occurs when the heart can not pump enough blood strongly enough for the body allowing fluids to build up.

He was given a stent for a blocked artery. Unlike Robert, Jack had to stay in the hospital for a long period due to the severity of the blockage and to adjust his medication.

“They told me I also had a particular blockage that they called a widow maker because — if it had been a quarter of an inch in a different direction it would have been all over for me. Also, between the diabetes and the heart they had to keep adjusting my medication.”

After 23 days Jack was released and had to return again in December to have a pacemaker and defibrillator fitted. The operation went well until they realised that the wires that went into his heart had detached and they had to open him up and reattach them.

He now lives with his pacemaker which he says does not bother him too much and he has made several lifestyle changes to help him lead a healthier life.

Asked what advise he would offer the public he said: “Get regular check-ups, at least annually but I would say at my age — it’s not going to hurt to get it done every six months — especially if you have a health problem. I had no idea — if I had had a better idea of where I stood I might have done something about it before.”

Jack said he wanted to thank Dr Mir at Lahey, and Dr Levick at the hospital as well as the rehab team and the fitness regime they have for recovering heart patients.

For information about heart health visit http://www.mybermudaheart.bm