I want to encourage anyone suffering from symptoms that might be heart related, such as a shortage of breath or tiredness, to seek immediate medical attention. Neither my father nor my brother did, but I did and am here to tell the tale.

In January 2019, I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF). Subsequently, I underwent a successful cardioversion.

As a follow-up I was given various tests, including a CT scan and an MRI scan, as well as an ECG, during the course of this battery of tests it was found that I had a leaking heart valve and a distended aorta.

These conditions were monitored and eventually I was advised that I needed surgery and that I was to be referred to Harefield Hospital. By this time lockdown had commenced, notwithstanding which I was seen and assessed at Harefield where it was confirmed that I did, indeed, need surgery.

All my life I have been very fit, having played cricket to a high standard (I was offered a professional contract), rugby, squash, which I was playing until I had the AF; and I attended the gym three or four times a week, as well as walking a great deal.

When lockdown started, I was walking a few miles each day but, gradually, over the course of about 18 months my walking became far more restricted. I was suffering chest pain on taking exercise to the extent that I gave up the gym and my walking became possible only on flat ground, and for no more than a mile or so.

Heart surgery at Harefield Hospital

Harefield have a terrific system whereby each week I was reporting my symptoms online. I was also assigned “my own” nurse with whom I was in contact on a regular basis.

Eventually the problem became very acute. Essentially, the situation is that if one’s aorta becomes more distended than 5 cm, immediate surgical intervention is needed. By this time, mine was at 6 cm.

Regrettably, due to the prevailing circumstances I was told on Monday 19 April 2021, that due to restrictions associated with Covid-19 only the most urgent cases were being dealt with. On the Tuesday I received a further phone call asking me to attend the next morning for a Covid-19 test; and was advised that I was to be admitted on Thursday evening, 22 April, with the operation – a Bentall Procedure – to take place on Friday morning, 23 April at 7:30 AM.

At least I did not have much time to mull over and worry about it!

On the morning of the operation I was shaved by two nurses and then wheeled to the pre-operative area where I was greeted by a very nice man who said that he was going to be my advocate. I also met the surgeon who seemed completely relaxed and confident, and then the anaesthetist who almost immediately, knocked me out.

I came to and was greeted by a very friendly specialist registrar and a nurse, who explained my situation, and put a liquid morphine pump in my hand. I remained in ICU for a day or a day and a half, whereafter I was transferred to a general ward.

The treatment and care that I received from the nursing staff was exemplary. They always seemingly had time for a brief chat, which is all I could manage; and were totally caring and professional.

The removal of the catheter and the two drains from my stomach area, were undertaken speedily and with only momentary acute pain.

I was released the following Thursday, April 29, with various medications, some paracetamol, as well as an approximately 20 cm black raised scar down the centre of my chest where my sternum had been sawn in half and subsequently re-fixed with metal sutures.

Getting back to fitness following heart surgery

On discharge I was told not to do anything for six weeks, however the first thing I did when I got home was pick up a small table! That taught me a lesson which was reinforced by my wife, who went out and bought orange wristbands for me and made me wear them for six weeks as a reminder, in her words, to “not to be stupid.”

I took the paracetamol as instructed for approximately a week and since then have taken no painkillers whatsoever which, given the nature and extent of the surgery (which took about seven hours) is little short of miraculous and, obviously, a testament to the skill of the surgical team.

Whilst I had been in hospital, my younger brother had died of undiagnosed heart disease (as did my father, some 37 years ago) so I had to organise a funeral and generally deal with his estate. Notwithstanding the obvious stress I managed this successfully and made a speech at his funeral approximately four weeks after my discharge from Harefield.

Within a couple of weeks I was walking again. Despite being told not to return to the gym for six months, I went back after about three and a half, as I felt pretty well and able to do so.

I am now lifting weights that are heavier than those with which I was training prior to the operation and am attending the gym about five times a week. Provided I start off walking on the flat, to warm-up, I can walk as far as I wish to. The only very slight restriction I have, and it is an inconvenience only, is that I find it slightly difficult to start a walk immediately uphill.

Fifteen months on, the scars from the surgery and drains are barely visible, partly aided by the suntan I have acquired during this summer.

Notwithstanding the fact that I have retired on multiple occasions (and have had more comebacks than Frank Sinatra) I was asked, and agreed, in February of this year to return to what is a stressful job as a Clinical Negligence Solicitor, as cover for a lady on maternity leave. This I did successfully, and without incident, for about 10 weeks. I have now been asked to return again.

Essentially, the surgical team at Harefield saved my life, and have given me a new life. I can’t thank them enough.

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