This is why we’re raising money. Please, have a read.
I was 11 when my dad had his first heart attack. It was February 1992 and just days before we were to go on holiday during half term. I remember a close family friend, Carol, meeting me at the gates outside Bristol Grammar School and me wondering where my mum was. Carol told me my dad was unwell, and I remember thinking she meant he had been physically sick, and wondering what all the fuss was about. It was only when I got to Frenchay Hospital’s coronary care unit and saw how upset mum was that I understood. He was unconscious, with tubes sticking out of him everywhere. And he was cold, very cold to touch. My sister, Tania, had driven down to Bristol from London at breakneck speed and I remember her crying uncontrollably in the corridor after seeing him. None of us knew if he would make it. For an 11-year-old, it was terrifying.
The next few years were different from what I’d known before. I would go to school and come home not knowing if I was doing homework or going to the hospital. Dad was in hospital almost every other week and had a number of further heart attacks, and mum and I spent countless hours, weeks and months visiting him, mainly at Southmead’s coronary care unit.
Two years after his first, dad had another major heart attack. He was in hospital for six weeks, gravely ill, and then in May 1994 had a quadruple heart bypass at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. After a bypass most patients regain consciousness fairly soon and are sitting up in a chair after a day or so. Dad was unconscious for three weeks, in what I suppose was a medically-induced coma. For 10 days he was on a machine to make his heart and lungs work, as both had collapsed. It would have killed most people, but dad is a stubborn bugger and a fighter, and after three weeks he came around. I can’t remember how long it was before he was released from hospital, but it must have been months.
Despite almost dying again, dad pulled through – once again thanks to the brilliance of Bristol’s cardiac doctors and nurses. In the 21 years since that first heart attack dad has had three more major ones and a number of minor ones, around a dozen in total. He’s had numerous of angiograms and angioplasties (operations to see inside the arteries of the heart and clear them so blood can flow properly) and dozens of other procedures to help his heart.
And he’s still here. After more trips to Southmead Hospital than I can possibly recollect, he is still here. Dad’s heart condition has come to form a huge part of our lives. Not a day goes by when it doesn’t touch us, not least my mum, Elf, who is dad’s ultimate nurse, and gives him more care, love and support than a person surely has capacity for, and deserves more thanks than every nurse in the world. And funnily enough, I have some very happy memories of visiting dad in hospital, of having tears of laughter rolling down our faces as we played cards on his bed or simply listening to his tales about what he and the other patients get up to while they’re recuperating.
But one thing has always stood out. On almost every occasion the care he has received in hospital has been outstanding. During the darkest days of the last 21 years, when dad and mum and I have been at our lowest, the doctors and nurses at Southmead Hospital – all the hospitals – have shown kindness, dedication and care beyond imagining. It always helps lift the spirits when you go in to see your dad and you see him laughing with the nurses and catch them rolling their eyes at his bad jokes and requests for the Rugby League to be put on the ward TV.
So that is why Cozzie and I – and hopefully some of you – are undertaking the challenges behind the Helping Hearts appeal. Heart disease touches so many lives – we all have a friend or relative who has been through it – but there are so many things we can do to ease the pain a little. We’re raising money for the coronary care and cardiology units at Southmead Hospital to say thank you to Wendy, the ward sister who has cared for dad for almost 20 years, and her team, and his consultants, Dr Paul Walker and Dr Andrew Skyrme-Jones.
More importantly, we’re doing it for you. So that if your loved one faces the unthinkable, the right people have all the equipment they need to save them and give them many more years of life.