IMAGINE walking around knowing that one of the most important organs in your body could fail.
This is what life is like for two Wrexham residents who suffered heart attacks in their 40s and, to mark National Heart Month they have shared their harrowing stories with the Leader.
Paul Bryan, 47, a former long-distance lorry driver, had no warning when his heart attack struck.
He said: “Back then, I was smoking on average 60 fags a day through boredom.
“In March 2011, I was sitting in my gran’s watching TV and all of a sudden it was as if someone had sat on my chest. I left my gran’s house as I didn’t want to scare her and I drove to a police station for help, but no one was on duty.
“I drove the three miles home and I was found by my neighbour on the floor. It was a miracle he was off work or I wouldn’t be able to talk to you now.”
Paul was rushed to the Wrexham Maelor where he was put on stabilising drugs and then on to Broadgreen specialist hospital in Liverpool for surgery.
Staff hypothesised that the cigarettes and stress had led to the attack.
He said: “I will never forget the pain. It was so severe. I was sweating as if I’d run a marathon. All I could think of was my two children. I told my neighbour to tell them I loved them because I really did think it was the end.
“The staff were amazing. They took me into theatre and told me they were going to put a stent in to open the failing artery.
“They entered my main vein in my right wrist and operated through there. One thing they didn’t tell me was that, as they were doing the operation, I underwent a controlled heart attack to block off the artery to do the repairs.
“I never want that pain again, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
The heart attack has left Paul with chronic coronary heart disease and he will be on varied amounts of medication for the rest of his life.
He said: “There’s nothing more they can do, apart from regular check-ups and scans and medicine reviews. The damage has been done to the heart muscle.
“I have cut down to 10 smokes a day. My lifestyle will never be the same. I enjoyed football with my son and I can no longer do it. Work has gone down the pan as some days I can’t leave the house.
“You just have to grin and bear it and take each day as it comes.”
Fortunately, Paul’s family and friends have been supportive.
He said: “It means the world to me to have people around who care and understand it’s a life-changing situation.
“As for medical care, I have the cardio rehab team at the hospital only a phone call away, which helps me sleep at night.
“If any reader ever has a pain in their chest that’s different to any other pain they’ve had, or if they feel it in their left arm or even to the jaw, get to the hospital immediately or dial 999.”
In contrast, grandmother of two Violet Bell, 61, of Wrexham, became ill due to an inherited condition.
She said: “I had my first heart attack 13 years ago. It was really strange – all the muscles in my jaw tightened up. I didn’t have the usual symptoms, but it was only a month after my mother also had a heart attack.
“I turned to my husband Keith and said, ‘I think I’m having a heart attack.’ He told me to stop being so soft, that it was probably just wind! But I was taken into hospital and sure enough...”
The former receptionist was diagnosed with an abnormality affecting the electric signals in the heart.
She said: “I now have heart failure, and in the last few months I’ve had a further three heart attacks. It’s like living with a time bomb inside me.
“It can be at any time – the most recent actually happened when I was sitting in a hospital bed.
“I never found out if my heart had stopped during the hospital heart attack. Staff just told me I “went off’.
“They pulled the curtain round and poor Keith was sitting outside, hearing everything that went on and powerless to do anything.
“The symptoms differ; I’ve felt the pain in my jaw and in my neck, but I always had this horrible feeling that I could breathe in but not out.”
Violet was originally told she had three options: to control the situation with medication, to have a pacemaker fitted, or to undergo a heart transplant, but at the last advice, she was informed that due to her age and diabetes, a transplant was unsuitable.
She said: “I think I’ll probably opt for the pacemaker, which will just regulate me and keep me going.
“This has severely affected my life. I can only walk up two stairs before I have to stop to take a breath. I’ve been told not to exercise until I have the pacemaker installed.”
Researching her family history, Violet, who has always made a point of exercising and eating well, found that both her mother and grandmother died of heart failure.
She said: “I’m not giving up though. I’m still here, my heart is still ticking and as Keith says, nothing’s dropped off.
“I fully intend to live to 104.
“Pacemakers tend to last from six to 10 years, so I’ve put my name down for five of them.”