Sunday, September 23, 2012

Heart Problems - It's not only for Couch Potatoes

I have always been fit whether through running, cycling, mountaineering, skiing, kayaking whatever and for years I was under the impression that my life style made me immune from any possibility of heart problems. After all I was regularly Mountainbiking at a high level and holding my own with youngsters half my age. 

Our usual testing ground, Innerleithen a well known centre in the Scottish Borders, begins with an unrelenting hour long climb, for many a lot longer, to high on the Minch Moor before the downhill fun starts. This climb is unavoidable and for years I had relished it because my light build and cardiovascular system were suited to that kind of effort. However, for some months I had been enjoying it less and less, often trying to get a head start on the climb so I could take things easier. At 59 years of age the obvious answer was I was getting older and, disappointing as it was, I should expect this drop off in performance

On 3rd April this year I started up the climb having managed to sneak away while the rest of the
group were still in the carpark and pretty soon I felt things even harder than was becoming usual, so much so that I stopped and sat down at the side of the track. My hands and forearms had started to feel a bit numb and my breathing had become laboured but by the time the others caught up I was recovered enough to continue. I did note how surprised they were to see that I had stopped to sit down. I was soon forced to have another stop which I attempted to disguise as a requirement to remove a rain jacket as I was too warm but by this time my pals were beginning to suggest that I call it a day.

To cut along story short I stubbornly persisted in going to the top and continued for another 2 hours doing the normal descents. However in response to the concerns of the rest of the group, I agreed to visit my Doctor the following day.

I made an appointment and was delighted to be seen by someone who has been involved in hill running for many years and who might be more open to the idea of someone of my age performing at these levels. I was expecting to be told that I might have to get used to reduced performance as I aged and was surprised when the Dr told me she could detect a heart murmmer. This resulted in a same day admission to the Chest Pain Clinic at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary quickly followed by the news that I was suffering from Aortic Stenosis and would require Open Heart Surgery to replace the much narrowed valve. I was also informed I may well require a bypass graft.

Stunned I think is the only way to describe how I felt and then sorry for myself and then angry, a whole gamut of emotions as I begun the journey of coming to terms with my new reality.