My Health Experience: ‘I could tick every box of risk factors for a heart attack’
Donal Herlihy thought he had severe heartburn so was amazed when he was told he'd had two heart attacks
I was nervous because I had never been in hospital overnight before. I had my last cigarette before going into the Mater hospital that morning.
The surgeon made me feel more relaxed and although I was semiconscious for the operation, I decided not to look at it on the screen beside me while it was being carried out. I did look it up on Google afterwards and saw how tiny – and how expensive – stents are.
I was extremely bruised and sore afterwards. I was out of work for three weeks and only gradually got my strength back by walking a little bit more each day.
I look back now and I see that I could tick every single box of risk factors for having a heart attack. It is in my family. Two of my uncles have had triple bypass surgery, and my parents both have high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
I too have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I didn’t exercise. I didn’t eat well and was fond of red meat. I started smoking when I was 16 and was on about 20 a day from 18 onwards. I drank about five or six pints on a night out – maybe four nights a week – and Sunday would be a full day’s session watching the football. And when I was drinking I would smoke a lot more too.
Since the operation, I haven’t turned into a health freak but I have made some changes. I drink a little less. I walk home from work most days, which takes about half an hour. I eat a bit more healthily. I always eat breakfast and I bring sandwiches or a salad box into work for lunch. I try not to eat dinner after 8pm. I’ve started to lose some body fat because I do some exercises in the morning before I go to work.
I am on cholesterol-lowering medication and take drugs to lower my blood pressure, an aspirin a day, and beta-blockers to regulate my heart. All my siblings were checked out when they were told I had a heart attack, and my brother stopped smoking.
I was on holidays in Jordan on my own and I went horse-riding and scuba-diving. During both of these activities, I panicked. I spent the next few months trying to come to terms with the anxiety and worried that I would never be back to the person I was before, who was never afraid to try something. At my check-up in January, I asked was it too late to do the cardiac rehabilitation programme, but it wasn’t.
I felt a bit of an idiot at the classes because I was so much younger than all the other people there.
I found the talks on diet, blood pressure and medication extremely useful. What really helped, though, were the one-to-one sessions with a psychologist. I learned about how the body reacts to certain situations and now I listen to mindfulness CDs on the way into work, which helps a lot.
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