In this section, a number of Heartlink members tell you about their own experiences of heart disease and how they coped. We hope some of their experiences will be relevant and helpful to you. To talk to them or other members, please come along to one of our meetings or our community hub. Dates and details are HERE.
Eric Tait hails from the North East of England. He enjoyed sports at school, playing cricket and representing his school on the football pitch. For his first job he worked in a steel foundry. In the 1960s he moved to Devon, with his wife, and together they brought up their two children. He continued to enjoy sports and played for his village cricket team. Subsequently he moved to London to work at Wormwood Scrubs Prison, teaching the inmates to repair sewing machines.
Eric appeared to be fit and healthy until he reached his 70s. He was at his local camera club when he blacked out for the first time. The paramedics were called but could find nothing wrong so he continued with his normal routine. He suffered further blackouts before his cardiologist was able to diagnose an irregular heart beat for which a pacemaker was fitted, in 2012, at Ealing Hospital. The pacemaker’s battery was replaced recently.
Eric was also diagnosed with high blood pressure for which he was prescribed tablets.
In 2014 Eric underwent heart bypass surgery at the Royal Brompton Hospital and then in 2021 he was admitted to hospital for an unconnected medical problem and was found to have a faulty heart valve. The faulty valve didn’t cause Eric any discomfort but eventually it caused him to become short of breath on walking. His cardiologist was hoping to be able to replace his valve through a blood vessel in his leg but this was not possible so Eric was offered open heart surgery. Initially Eric was reluctant to go ahead with surgery but is really pleased now that he plucked up the courage to go ahead with it in March 2023.
Eric is making a good recovery from the surgery, feeling stronger by the day. He is now able to live independently. He walks regularly and no longer gets out of breath.
Eric is grateful to his friend, Leslie, who introduced him to Heartlink by taking him along to a coffee morning 10 years ago, before his bypass surgery. He is a member of the Heartlink committee, attends chair yoga classes and really enjoys the social aspect of the organisation.
Eric is now well into his 80s but tells me proudly that his cardiologist has told him that he has ‘the heart of a 10 year old’!
Agya trained as a nurse at a missionary school in India, arriving in the UK in 1969. She continued to work as a nurse in London, initially as a general nurse, then as a midwife and finally in cardiology at The Royal Brompton Hospital. She was the first nursing sister to work at Ealing Hospital when it opened in 1979.
Unfortunately Agya’s husband suffered a stroke, at the age of 45, while on holiday. This was a particularly stressful time for Agya caring for him so she decided on a radical change of lifestyle, resigning from nursing, joining the spiritual university and taking up meditation.
Always having been concerned about the welfare of other people, Agya set up a hostel for single women and their children which she has continued to run for 33 years.
Agya had lived an active and healthy lifestyle, attending the gym regularly, practicing yoga and sticking to a vegetarian diet so when a few years ago she noticed that she was slightly breathless with a bit of discomfort in her left arm she put it down to the handbag she carried over her left shoulder. She was cooking at home when she experienced a sharp pain in her chest. She sat down and rested and the pain settled down after a minute so again Agya continued with her usual activities.
The following day Agya was out shopping when she experienced difficulty breathing. She returned home and phoned her GP who advised her to go to A&E to be checked out. At the hospital Agya’s ECG and blood test results were normal. She was given paracetamol and sent home.
The following day Agya again had discomfort in her arm so she went to see her GP who arranged a hospital appointment for her for the following week. An angiogram was carried out which showed three coronary arteries to be blocked.
Her cardiologist said that it was most unusual to have normal ECG and blood test results with such poor blood flow to the heart muscles. Agya put this down to her meditation which helps her to stay extremely calm and relaxed.
The only treatment option for Agya was heart bypass surgery for which she was admitted to hospital 5 weeks later. Not being the type of person to sit around doing nothing, Agya helped another heart patient to have her first shower after heart surgery while she was waiting for her own surgery to take place!
Agya’s successful surgery was performed ‘off the pump’ and she was home 10 days later.
Five years down the line Agya is living a full and active life. She works for Let’s Go Southall to help improve the health and wellbeing of local residents.
Agya became involved with Heartlink after seeing the charity’s leaflets at Ealing Hospital when she attended for one of her appointments. Having nursed in a cardiology ward she is well placed to answer questions at Heartlink meetings if the doctors arrive late! Jaspreet, her son, also volunteers for Heartlink advising on computing matters.
Mohinder Kalsi was repeatedly told his chest pains were indigestion until he was rushed to hospital in the small hours with a suspected heart attack. It felt like history repeating itself.
Mohinder’s father, grandfather and two uncles had heart attacks but he had always been sensible about his diet and exercise since his sisters - both nurses - warned their brother of the increased risk of heart disease among the Asian community.
“It knocks you out of your stride,” says the retired engineer who lives in Ealing and found one of his greatest aids to recovery was meeting with people who had lived through a similar experience.
Mohinder found himself wanting to give something back and joined Heartlink, a local charity providing advice and support to people living with heart conditions, especially those undergoing or recovering from hospital treatment.
The group, which now has more than 300 members, was originally set up with the support of Ealing cardiologist Jaspal Kooner who saw the value of a support network outside hospital.This autonomy recently took another step forward with a pilot encouraging patients to self-monitor their condition at home and send the results to heart failure nurses via an app.
Mohinder said: “I can’t fault the medical staff. They have been so caring and kind but they don’t have the personal experience of living with a heart condition and the physical and mental challenges that can bring.Heartlink makes you realise you aren’t alone. I really enjoy volunteering and helping people realise that life goes on.”
Gurcharan was born in India. He moved to Africa and from Africa he moved to London in 1962.
Gurcharan was the father of 6 children. The eldest four were born in Africa, and the youngest two in the UK. He worked as a turner in a metalwork factory, in West Drayton, making parts for cars, fridges and freezers and would often come home with small self-made toys for his children.
Gurcharan appeared to be fit and healthy, going for daily long walks with his family after work.
When Gurcharan was in his early 50s he was made redundant from his job. It was a difficult and stressful time searching for work and shortly afterwards his health problems started.
The first sign that anything was wrong was when he felt different from normal but without specific symptoms. He, very sensibly, booked an appointment with his GP who diagnosed very high blood pressure. Initially his high blood pressure was difficult to control but eventually it was controlled with two different tablets.
Gurcharan’s blood pressure was monitored at Ealing Hospital. Gradually his health went downhill. At the age of 57 he underwent heart bypass surgery and then two years later he was diagnosed with kidney failure, requiring dialysis.
Sadly, just a few years later Gurcharan was diagnosed with Lupus and died within a few days.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease which can affect the heart and kidneys, as well as other parts of the body. It can be difficult to diagnose but if caught early it can be managed with medicines. Sadly it was found too late for Gurcharan.
Avtar, Gurcharan’s daughter, cared for him during his years of poor health along with her siblings. She describes her father as a 'people's person’, He would regularly go to the local temple and recite prayers voluntarily and also attend Sikh Religious functions that people would have in their homes. Gurcharan was always happy to help anyone. Even when he was in hospital he asked his family to share the food and snacks that they had brought for him, with other patients in the ward.
It was only after her father passed away that Avtar became involved with Heartlink. She came across someone wearing a Heartlink t-shirt then realised that she recognised some people who were involved with the charity. She decided to become involved herself and now volunteers for Heartlink.
Avtar is really glad that she became involved with Heartlink - ‘it was meant to be - for my dad’.
No one ever warned me about the possibility that I might have a heart problem.
Bernard is a trim 74 year old. He has never smoked and does not drink. Now retired, Bernard used to hold a senior position within a local council. It was high stress and involved long and irregular working hours and was largely sedentary. Now that he has retired, this active grandfather is consciously focussed on his well-being. He is a keen gardener, loves walking and the outdoors and exercises around four times a week. He was obviously shocked by the turn of recent events.
When I went for my covid booster, a vigilant doctor listened to my heart and suspected a heart murmur. Prior to that I had no idea I had a problem, I had experienced no obvious symptoms and considered myself to be low risk. What followed was a series of tests over a period of around three months.
I was incredibly fortunate. The new catheter laboratory had just opened and I was one of its first patients. Ealing fast-tracked my case and I was given excellent treatment. On the day of the procedure, I was given full explanations as to the planned procedure by nurse JoJo and well prepared by the laboratory technicians Natasha and Noel. Dr Nabil gave me the consent form and explained that should the team detect any problems that needed urgent attention, they had my agreement to proceed. Professor Jaspal Kooner was on hand to do the procedure, initially under local anaesthetic although to insert the stent, they gave me stronger sedation.
Afterwards I was monitored for four hours and given instructions on how to take it easy for the first few weeks after the procedure. Thankfully, I was able to leave the hospital on the same day and although I had a disturbed first night at home as the drugs worked their way out of my system. I have been fine since then.
I am also grateful to Heartlink who were there to help and support me through my recovery. Speaking to people who had gone through a similar experience gave me the re-assurance I needed at a time when I felt most vulnerable. I am now a member and I volunteer on a regular basis to try and help others who like me were taken by surprise at having a heart condition.
Bernard is now almost back to his old self.
I am incredibly grateful to the amazing staff at Ealing and the speed and professionalism with which I was diagnosed and treated.
My experience really highlighted for me the importance of having regular health checks and being vigilant. If this happened to me it could happen to anyone.