When you go into work on a Monday morning you don’t expect your colleagues to save your life, but that is exactly what happened to Mark Douglas.
On Monday 15th June 2015, Mark, who works for Musgrave MarketPlace Cash and Carry in the Duncrue Industrial Estate, Belfast, started his working day as normal with a cup of tea and a cigarette. Suddenly he felt a strong pain in his chest.
Mark says, “The pain felt like really bad trapped wind and I went into the office to get a glass of water. I’d had a similar pain over the weekend and a glass of water took the pain away then. Three of my colleagues, Terry Dineen, Veronica Murray and David Wright, were there and they all asked if I was okay, saying I had gone a terrible colour. I was also beginning to sweat so badly I had to throw off my hoodie. At that point Terry, who is also a personal trainer, said I needed to go to hospital.”
Mark was taken to the A&E at the Mater, where he had an ECG, which turned out to be completely normal. However, as the nurse left the room, he had a severe coughing fit. “The next thing I remember is looking up at doctors who were asking me the pin code for my phone, so they could call my wife. Then I lost consciousness again. I woke up in the Royal Victoria, having had two stents put in. When Dr McClements showed me the angiograms, I could see that my arteries had been completely blocked.”
What Mark only found out later was that he had collapsed after the coughing fit and gone into cardiac arrest. The A&E staff had to do CPR twice and use the defibrillator three times. The cardiologist and the A&E nurses all told him how lucky he was that he had come to the hospital when he felt the symptoms because the cardiac arrest was so sudden, if he had still been at work, he would probably have died. Mark says, “From feeling unwell to coming out of the operating theatre was only two and a half hours – that is how important acting quickly is. It’s a race against time.”
Mark says, “I owe my life to my colleagues. Simple as that. This is what I want to tell people – if you have symptoms, then get medical help. It saved my life and it could save yours.”
Mark has made a very good recovery and returned to work after only 7 weeks. While he was still in hospital he met the cardiac rehab team. “The first thing they said to me was ‘I take it you’ve given up smoking’”, remembers Mark, “And I had. The cigarette that Monday morning was my last. It hasn’t been easy, but I am still off them.
“Having a heart attack was one of the best things that could have happened to me as now I am healthier. As well as giving up smoking, I have cut salt out of my diet and I try to watch what I eat. I have also taken up exercise. My job is very physical anyway and I can do my 10,000 steps just in a working day. I measure them every day. But I now I also do exercise at the gym.
“All this is a result of the cardiac rehab, which is excellent. I still go to the classes to ensure that I am monitored and do the right exercises. My message to anyone has had a heart attack is to go to cardiac rehab with an open mind. They are there to help you. But be prepared to make changes.
“Now I want to give something back. Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke is my workplace’s charity partner. Along with other Musgrave employees I have been raising money. I even did a leg of the marathon this year, something I would never have considered before the marathon. But I also want to tell people my story so that maybe someday it will mean someone else’s life is saved.”
Find out more about the cardiac support services that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offer.