Victoria Pinkerton, Managing Director of Pinkertons Estate Agents with branches in Bangor and Comber, was only 21 when her father Cecil died of a heart attack 13 years ago, less than a month after his 51st birthday.
Cecil, a keen yachtsman and Trustee at the Quoile Yacht Club in Downpatrick, had survived a heart attack while out sailing two years previously but doctors had warned him that his heart muscle was so badly damaged any further distress on the heart would be fatal. Sadly his second heart attack in June 2003 claimed his life.
Throughout Cecil’s life he was always heavily involved in sports and looked after himself, though after his first heart attack he reviewed his diet and lifestyle with the aim to make it even healthier. Cecil’s own father died of a heart attack in his early 50s when Cecil was only 15 years old and despite this it would be fair to say that Cecil, like the thousands of people in Northern Ireland who have heart disease in their family, was probably unaware that this put him more at risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cecil died on Tuesday 3rd June 2003 and late that evening Victoria, who had just moved into her first home received a call from her mum Eileen explaining her father had collapsed at the yacht club and she needed to come as quickly as possible. “When mum called me I don’t think she knew the full extent of what had happened to dad. As I lived in Belfast I drove as quickly as I could to Downpatrick but as I started to approach the town, I wondered whether I should go to the yacht club or the hospital. When I called mum’s mobile and a friend of dad’s answered and told me to come to the yacht club. I think then, I knew.”
As Victoria approached the yacht club, she could see the ambulance but was also aware that there was very little activity around it. She was taken through the back door of the club where the sad news was broken to her; that following a committee meeting her dad had collapsed as he left the club at 11pm. The paramedics had worked on him for almost all of the time it took Victoria to drive from Belfast, but there was nothing they could do to bring him back.
Victoria continued, “I had never seen a dead body before and I never once expected that at the age of 21 my first encounter would be with that of my dad’s. As he lay on the ground outside the yacht club where he had passed away, I lay down beside him with my head on his chest. He was still warm and as I wept my little sister Natalie came over and sat beside me. At that point I knew my life had changed forever. My father; my first love and hero had gained his wings and wouldn’t be a physical part of my life anymore”.
When Victoria arrived at her family home with her mum and sister after leaving the yacht club in the early hours of Wednesday morning she said “I remember as if it was yesterday the feeling of arriving at home and walking into the kitchen. Dad’s shoes were left out from polishing them as he did every evening, ready for work the next day; something which I still do to this day. I think that’s when it hit mum, Natalie and I that he really was gone and wasn’t coming home.”
Victoria has had thirteen years to come to terms with the loss of her father. She says, “When you lose someone suddenly, you don’t have a chance to say goodbye, but on the other hand, knowing they did not suffer is a comfort. Dad had a good life and he was happy, but his life was way too short”.
“Now I have two very young daughters of my own and I never want them to go through what my sister and I went through. I know that heart disease runs in my family and understand that this is something that I can’t control, though I can, through awareness, control my diet and lifestyle, ensuring I get enough exercise, not smoking and trying to get enough sleep despite having a toddler and a new baby. I also have to make a considerable effort to manage the effects of stress which unfortunately is inevitable through running my own business and being a mum.”
Sadly, less than two months after sharing her story with NICHS, Victoria also lost her mum. Our thoughts are with her and her sister Natalie.
Find out more about the cardiac support services that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offer.