The day I had an Angel watching over me..
Updated: Nov 24, 2017
Well it has been a year since I had minimally invasive heart surgery to fix an extremely large Atrial septal defect.... a defect I was born with. After 28 years of living with it my heart started to fail. My heart was beating harder and faster than normal, it had enlarged in size, the same as any muscle that is overworked. I had been tired my whole life but all blood test came back clear, everyone thought I was just lazy, there was nothing obviously wrong with me. I had always been pretty fit and exercised my whole life. Swimming for Bromley Swimming Club for 9 years, 10 hours a week, I kicked boxed my way up to blue belt with the Phoenix School of Martial Arts, if I wasn't at the gym I was using my Insanity dvd or doing pilates, its amazing how much I could achieve with a broken heart. So generally I have always been really fit, so when I took my first jog along the beach in San Diego, California, one summer holiday I realised I was getting really short on breath, I just stopped more often to rest. I was used to jogging the streets of England so put the breathlessness down to climate change and carried on.
Alarm bells started ringing during a hike in Zion, Utah. From the beginning I felt exhausted, that could have been from lack of sleep from the horrors of first time camping during a thunderstorm, with wild animals living close by. As our group ventured off to explore this 'Angels Landing' I walked past a sign that said "hike at your own risk!" That was my first warning sign. I looked up at this mountain and just couldn't believe I was going to reach the top, but I sure was going to give it my best shot, anyone that knows me, knows how much I love a challenge. I had prepared myself, I was at the gym 5 days a week for months leading up to the holiday, I was fit enough. It must have been about 10 minutes in I started to get breathless and started to moan that this was hard. I was really struggling, not just breathing but moving my body, my legs just didn't want to work. The group split up with the others ploughing on through with me stopping throughout, then they would rest and wait for me to catch up. Older people were overtaking me at points. What was wrong with me? This was ridiculous, they might have exchanged their walking sticks for hiking poles, but they were passing me like it was easy. Something wasn't right. I tried to push it to the back of my mind and anyone who knows how determined I can be I was going to make it to the top. I did. I cant tell you how long it took me, but I made it, and the view was to die for. Excuse the pun. Back on lower ground I could breathe more easily. This was something I had to check when I got home.
After several doctors appointments I finally persuaded them to check my heart. Sometimes It beat so hard I felt sick. Several tests and many different doctors later the cardiologist was convinced I was fine, he thought I looked extremely healthy but booked me in for a scan of the heart just to make sure. I wasn't allowed to leave the hospital. I as sat in a room where the doctors explained I needed open heart surgery to create a wall in my heart that had been missing since birth. I was receiving half the oxygen than a normal heart needs to feed the body, that was why I felt so ill climbing to the top of a mounting, the air was thinner. I was recieving even less oxygen. They had to operate it was necessary but not an emergency. I had to stop all exercise immediately and try and remain available at any time.
2 years later Judgement Day called.
My heart was stopped my lungs collapsed and I was put on life support, where I remained for the next 12 hours, and in intensive care for 48 hours. Luckily they had found a new procedure that meant I didn’t have to undergo open heart. They sliced under my chest and then made 6 minimal openings. My femoral artery was accidentally cut during the procedure, so I was rushed back in to theatre for them to fuse the vein. Not a great start. I woke in agony screaming at them that it hurt, I was trying to focus so hard on channeling the pain and was on so many drugs I couldn't see and hold a conversation at the same time. It was horrendous...... I asked the nurse if I was going to die, I even asked her to "kill me now" as the pain was unbearable. Im sure they thought drama queen (me never). After 1 week I was allowed home. One week later I was back. My body had rejected my stitches, which explains the intense pain that I had been feeling. I felt famous I never had so many people around me all wanting to look at my chest, the amount of photos the surgeons took, i’m sure its floating around Facebook somewhere. This was unusual they had all heard about this but never seen it. My wound had been undoing and slipping the stitches out without me knowing. It was an allergic reaction no wonder I had been in agony, I was readmitted three days later for another week, meanwhile they and tried various other methods that left me with burns to my chest as my body kept reacting to everything they tried. It was agony, they felt so bad they gave me day release to see Ed Sheeran at wembley, and I had to break back in at 2am. In the end they stitched me with some kind of metal and send me on my way.
Since leaving kings I have been attending rehabilitation classes once a week and have now completed the sessions. I still attend as I like the people in my group, majority of them are older of course, as we have all had heart surgery, but they have been there, they understand the pain, the worry for the future, and how scared I was in those few days. They get me. I have met some amazing people, and hopefully made some life long friends. wow i'm getting emotional writing this. A year on I am now fit enough to push my body to its limits. I am working out everyday and have completely changed my eating habits. I am now in control of my own body and will do everything in my power to prevent myself from ever feeling that ill again.
This summer I am going back to the West Coast to continue the journey I didn't finish. I will be working out in that gym on muscle beach I will attempt the most beautiful hike I can find in Arizona, I might even do another skydive or something crazy, theres no time to sit on the beach, this is now my summer to finally live like I never have been able to before...
Its weird to think that maybe if I never climbed 'Angels Landing' that i'd never have known, and where would I be today? That trip saved my life. One thing for sure, is that, that day I had an Angel watching over me. if my story can be an inspiration to one person, then all the pain would have been worth it...