A story that everyone needs to read, as you can never say that it won’t happen to you. Meet our face of the Cardiology stand at the Fieldays Health and Wellbeing Hub.
Sixty-year-old Joseph Michael Swinback-Slack – known as Joey Slack – has been a dairy farmer for 32 years and lives just outside Matamata.
Being slim in build and looking fit, Joey certainly does not appear to be a likely candidate for a heart attack. But in December last year, that’s exactly what happened.
“One Sunday I was feeling a bit crook, so went to the local doctor’s surgery but my doctor wasn’t there so I went home.”
That night, Joey says, “I had terrible back ache like a set of skis going down my back.” Just past midnight he woke up with a very heavy feeling in his chest.
“I had this pain from ‘teat-to-teat’, and I thought I was having a light heart attack. I was feeling hot and clammy so I tried to cool down and hoped it would pass.” Eventually he fell asleep and woke up a bit later around 3.30am. “I felt really bad so I asked my wife to call an ambulance.”
The ambulance was at their farm in about five minutes. The ambulance officer put Joey on an ECG machine which indicated a medical emergency, so time was of the essence. An advanced paramedic was sent to meet the ambulance and the cardiologist on call at Waikato Hospital was notified. This meant that when they arrived at ED Joey could go straight into the Cardiac Catheteristation Lab for a primary angioplasty (a procedure to widen or unblock arteries).
“I came out of hospital after three days with three stents in my artery to clear the affected area,” Joey says. “Then the Cardiac Rehab team contacted me for follow-up.”
That is when clinical nurse specialist Tracy Butler-Holdaway came into Joey’s life. Tracy is a cardiac rehabilitation nurse, one of a team of four at Waikato DHB. Their job is to support, advise, and educate cardiac patients who are recovering from or trying to manage their cardiovascular disease after they have been in hospital. They also act as the link between the cardiologist, the GP and the patient.
As part of his rehabilitation Joey was encouraged to attend the cardiac rehab exercise classes and an education session to make sure he was on track. Exercise classes are done in conjunction with Sport Waikato. A baseline is set for each patient at the first exercise session to monitor progress and after six weeks an improvement would be expected. Each session the cardiac nurses check for physical capability, symptomatic state, blood pressure, their heart rate and look at emotional state for depression or anxiety.
These tests picked up that Joey’s heart still wasn’t right.
Tracy set things in motion, starting off with a discussion with the cardiologist and GP to adjust his medication. But that wasn’t enough so Joey was called back in for a consultation at the hospital.
Once back home, he continued to feel unwell so he phoned Tracy who told him to come into Emergency Department. Again, speed was important, and Tracy phoned the Emergency Department and the on-call cardiologist to let them know Joey was coming in, the cardiologist decided to take him through to the Cardiac Catheteristation Lab.
The result was a stent placed in another artery.
“Coming to those cardiac rehabilitation classes gave me the tools I needed, and now I feel much more in control of my own destiny to make changes to my diet, take my medication correctly, reduce stress and have some work-life balance,” Joey reflects.
“The cardiology team is so fantastic. I can’t speak highly enough of them. I always get 100 per cent attention.”
Joey has some advice to others out there.
“Being a farmer often means that you just carry on working, on and on until something happens. You can get a kick from a cow or bang yourself bad when you are out on the farm and you just get over it,” he says.
“However, if you have a change in how you function as a person, don’t ignore it, seek help. It can start off as a slow niggling symptom like you are feeling lethargic, tired, having dizzy spells, have run out of puff, feeling stressed a lot, have some back pain between shoulder blades, please don’t ignore, getting generalised heaviness or shortness of breath, it might be your heart. Get it checked!”
“Go and get your blood pressure screened, get your lipids done,” he urges.
“Get your work-life balance in order.”
Tracy agrees. “People who don’t have a strong family history feel they are exempt from heart problems, but they are not,” she explains.
“We often think ‘It’s not going to happen to me’ but it does happen, we all need to be motivated to understand and be aware of our heart health.
Take the advice of two people who know, from first-hand experience. If you are going to the Fieldays this year, come visit our stand in the Health Hub. We will give your heart a health check. It’s worth it.