National Heart Month: ‘Lucky’ coincidences save life after heart attack in University gym
Date: 1st Feb 2018
Imagine being in a meeting at work one minute and waking up in intensive care the next. Where are you? Have you been in an accident?
This is exactly what happened to Adrian Armitage, Business Project Analyst, at Bucks New University.
In June last year, the 59-year-old became one of the more than 30,000 to suffer with an out-of-hospital heart attack in the UK each year.
He had no symptoms or warning signs - it came out of the blue.
“I’ve always been very fit – I did a lot of sport as a youngster and as an adult,” said Adrian. “I’ve always thought of myself as a healthy guy, and had no idea about what was going to happen. I had absolutely nothing - no symptoms, nothing to warn me.”
He didn’t smoke, drink, he ate healthy and was a regular gym member.
But at 5pm at the University’s Gateway Gym, as he was about to start on the rowing machine, when he collapsed and fell to the floor.
From here, so many aspects worked in Adrian’s favour to save his life - making him one of only four per cent who survive a heart attack outside of a hospital.
A cardiac nurse and an intensive care anaesthetist from nearby Wycombe Hospital were also working out at the gym beside Adrian.
“Basically they kept me alive,” said the father-of-two. “They used the University defibrillator on me twice and kept me alive for 15-20 minutes before the ambulance arrived.
“I was lucky that I was at the University and the right people were there.”
The odds continued to stack in Adrian’s favour - the paramedic was the husband of a University staff member, so he knew exactly where to go, and the cardiac nurse rang Wycombe Hospital’s cardiology unit and asked them not to close at their normal time so Adrian didn’t have to be transferred to Stoke Mandeville.
“I have no memory from 1.30pm on the Monday. Next thing I know is I’m waking up in intensive care on the Tuesday at about 11.30am. It’s all a blur. Everyone else has had to fill in the blanks.”
Adrian’s wife Helen was told to prepare for the worst and they didn’t expect him to survive - and if he did, he may have some brain damage.
But he did survive, with no brain damage - thanks to the heroics of fellow gym members, and a life-saving op and rehabilitation from the NHS.
So what happened? Why did this healthy man suffer a near fatal heart attack?
Adrian was genetically predisposed to high cholesterol, with relatives suffering from heart problems but had never had any symptoms to suggest that it had affected him too.
He measured seven at the time of his attack, when the healthy cholesterol level is below four.
Thanks to medication, exercise and adjusted diet, Adrian’s cholesterol is now a healthy 2.9 and he’s back to work - and the gym.
“I exercise differently now,” said Adrian, originally from Skipton in Yorkshire. “I don’t row with the same intensity. I just row further at a lower intensity and I’m always thinking about how I’m feeling.”
Adrian has a heart monitor in his chest and carries a glyceryl trinitrate spray which he has to use if he gets chest pains - but so far has not had to use it.
But it’s not just the physical effects of a heart attack - it can be the emotional too.
Adrian said: “I’m much more emotional now. I can watch the TV and see someone in a show having a heart attack and it affects me and I get emotional about it.
“The hardest thing I think is the effect on your loved ones. I spend a lot of time thinking about what it would have been like for them, without me. What things I would have missed?
“Our grandson was born in February and I’d only just been looking after him the weekend before the attack. And I just kept thinking that could have been the last the time I’d have seen him. But as time goes on it’s getting better - I’m living in the moment more.”
This included treating himself some new golf clubs, and they must have worked as he hit his first hole-in-one three months after his attack. He’s even replaced his Burnley FC gym t-shirt that the paramedics had to cut off him.
“Everybody has been fantastic,” said Adrian. “My family have been great, over-protective but you can’t blame them for that.
“The University have been brilliant too, and I’m so thankful it had a defibrillator on hand for the nurse and doctor to use. The NHS have also been fantastic, all of them, from saving my life until now.
“All those circumstances which came together mean that I’m still here able to talk to you today. I’ve never really been a lucky person but that Monday I think I used up all my luck in one day.”
The heart of the matter...
- Coronary heart disease is the most common cause of heart attack. In the UK there are 188,000 hospital visits each year due to heart attacks: that's one every three minutes.
- An estimated 915,000 people alive in the UK today (640,000 men and 275,000 women) have survived a heart attack.
- Over half a million people in the UK are living with heart failure.
- There are more than 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the UK each year. The overall survival rate in the UK is less than 1 in 10
To learn more about looking after your heart visit www.bhf.org.uk