February is Heart Health Awareness Month. We speak to Pam Harris, one of our Careerforce Apprenticeship Advisors and author of Getting to the heart of the matter about her experience recovering from a triple heart bypass operation that came as a huge surprise.
It was Waitangi Day 3 years ago now when Pam awoke in such a bad mood which she says is really unlike her at all. She couldn’t understand why she felt so grumpy. To shrug off her moodiness, she started moving the lawn. Ten minutes later, she couldn’t breathe.
“I managed to get myself to the lounge and laid on the sofa, telling husband Pete, that I would be okay. But after 20 minutes, I realised I wasn’t feeling better, and I agreed for him to call the health phone line. They advised Pete to give me an Aspirin and that made me feel better.”
“Sadly, having worked in health care for way too long, I realised that it wasn’t good news and the doctor advised Pete to call an ambulance as they should check my heart signs due to my age.”
“I was taken into Christchurch Hospital and after a further test, I was told that 3 arteries were blocked, and I would need a triple heart bypass operation. It turns out, I had a congenital health issue that none of us could possibly have known about!”
Because Pam looked after her health and kept fit, her recovery was faster than expected. “It took 4-6 weeks for me to be fit enough to return to work part-time.” She walked every day to stay strong, initially 10 minutes at a time and by 4 weeks, she was walking for 30 minutes to an hour.”
“To recover mentally, I read a lot, listened to music and wrote my book, Getting to the heart of the matter, which was very therapeutic. Emotionally was probably the worst part and I still have times when I wonder, ‘why me?’. But I have good friends and family around who helped me through the ups and downs of this side of my operation.”
The book also looks at her husband’s experience of events and gives insight to those who may be supporting someone going through a similar health trauma. It is laid out with the experience first and then goes onto the medications involved with all heart surgery.
The next part of the book gives good information around the right foods to eat and drink to maintain good health. Finally, Pam shares her meal plan for the week based on what she would have normally eaten, and have created a healthy option ensuring that cholesterol in recipes is low as are saturated fat and sodium intake. “I have personally tried all the recipes and lost a few kilos in the process,” she shares.
“I live quite differently with the main changes being on diet and food. I am mainly vegetarian, no sugar and no red meat. I also drink herbal teas and eat lots of porridge oats as they are so good for your heart, as is tuna and avocado. At team brekkies, there are no more full English breakfasts for me – it is vegetarian or Avo smashes. I also drink a lot more, no not alco
hol, but water and fruit juices. I also walk regularly, every day for at least 3-4 km and my puppy Rosie makes sure that I do this.”
If you are looking after someone who has a heart problem, Pam says, “we need and want more than anything to have your love and care. We need compassion and underst
anding and time, time to come to terms with what we have been through. We may never have needed medications before in our lives, so try to remember this.” “I have a dear friend Chrissy, who is a nurse, and I talked about the shock of all the medications and needing tablets and check-ups and she said she honestly had never thought about this when she worked with people like me and now would be different in the future.”
For resources and more information, visit the Heart Foundation website: www.heartfoundation.org.nz/. They are currently doing some fundraising to continue supporting people with heart disease. If you or your organisation can help, please get in touch with the foundation.