This Valentines we're supporting all hearts - please take a moment to read our National Sales Manager, Russell Stablers story below:
This journey began for me in mid-2017, after a routine blood test and pressure test in which they were alarmed at how high my blood pressure was; particularly as I was a relatively fit 30-year-old.
Later that week I return to the Doctor for an assessment, and whilst listening to my chest, and the duration the Doctor was listening for; I could tell something didn't seem quite right to him. I was told he could hear a murmur - effectively an additional sound in the heart that is irregular to the normal beats and was referred to the hospital for a scan and ECG.
The testing showed some irregularities, but unfortunately, the hospital I was under the care of; was not specialised in cardiology so struggled to offer a definitive reason behind these irregularities. I was prescribed some blood-pressure-reducing tablets and asked to be monitored over the next few weeks.
On Sunday 2nd July 2017, I was in the back garden cutting the grass, when I became light-headed with some pains in my chest. Naturally, with the news I had previously received, my wife and I became concerned, so she took me up to A&E once more. This time they decided to keep me in and run further tests. I was admitted to a ward and was seen many times over the week; with sadly no definitive conclusion to the issues I was facing. The hospital felt the best thing to do would be to refer me to the Leeds General Infirmary; where they are known for being congenital specialists.
I was discharged on 6th July and awaited a follow-up from Leeds. Over the course of the next few months, I went through several different tests and scans until they had come to a diagnosis.
I remember sitting in front of my consultant – Jamie Bentham, with my wife and him explaining to me and showing me visual aids; that I had a coarctation of the aorta and a bicuspid aortic valve. A coarctation of the aorta is effectively a severe narrowing of the aorta and was the reason behind my high blood pressure.
A typical adult's aorta is around 16mm, mine narrowed to 2mm – which was alarming. A bicuspid aortic value is where part of the valve isn’t formed right, and in turn, blood regurgitates into the heart ventricle. Dr. Bentham was incredibly reassuring and assured me that the factors, now found, were manageable. However, as a husband and a dad to a young boy, I was shell-shocked and remember breaking down in front of him. The plan from here was to rectify the coarctation and to do this, they intended to insert a stent to widen the aorta.
I received a letter in mid-2018, to advise my procedure would take place on 24th September 2018. Although for many, a stent is an important and straightforward procedure, I recall the trepidation I had the evening before and the morning at the hospital. I was the first one down that morning and was told the procedure should take around an hour. I was placed under local anaesthetic around 9:30 am for them to begin.
I still remember the female nurse saying my name as I came around from the anaesthetic and glanced up at the clock to see it was 12:10pm. Half in a daze, it didn’t really register with me that I had been under for almost three hours.
Once in recovery, and coming around, I remember my wife and dad being sat beside my bed, both clearly upset and worried.
Under normal processes, a stent is introduced through your groin. I was informed that the narrowing of my aorta was too tight and the stent wouldn’t go through, they eventually had to enter in through my wrist and pulled through. They also decided against extending the stent to the full 16mm under concerns of tearing my aortic artery, so widened it to 10mm, with the plan to widen it further down the line. My wife also advised me of some harrowing words that Dr. Bentham had said to her whilst I was recovering – that he simply didn’t understand how I have made it through life with the narrowing I had. I felt mightily blessed and fortunately; I suspect that always being an active person and maintaining a good fitness level helped me.
I spent three days in the hospital recovering, unfortunately, due to the struggles of going through my groin, I ended up with a very painful pseudoaneurysm; a tear in my blood vessels - this meant walking was a struggle. Once discharged I was told that I had to look after myself and ensure I exercised, avoided junk food, and followed all good practices in life.
Throughout the whole period of operation and throughout my recovery Supermax Healthcare has been fantastic and offered me unwavering support and commitment to ensure I got back to full health with no worries hanging over me – for that, I am eternally grateful.
The widening of my stent followed on the year after on 11th November 2019. The process thankfully was far quicker and in no way as near as invasive, the procedure was completed in an hour and I was discharged the same day. Again Supermax were so supportive during this period, and assured me, to offer no concerns on their behalf. My bicuspid aortic valve has yet to be operated on and is something that is scanned and checked every two years.
The consultants have always been honest with me and I am under no illusions that at some point I will need to have this replaced – the question is when? Until that point, all I can do is live life to the fullest, enjoy each day, and be thankful that I am under the care of Leeds General Infirmary, and that I have a fantastic support network around me both personally and professionally. Since all this has happened we have a second son now. Thankfully both boys have had numerous scans, the second boy whilst in mummy’s tummy, and are both clear of replicating my condition. That for me, was the greatest of gifts knowing that they will not have the same issues as I have.
I cannot thank the British Heart Foundation and Leeds Congenital Heart Department enough for the work that they do and am fully behind in supporting Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Day.
You can donate to the BHF here: https://www.bhf.org.uk