In the middle of July 2014 Kevin Carlin from Derry started experiencing the worst heartburn he’d ever had. It lasted from Wednesday through to Friday and was so severe he was bent double at his desk and colleagues were commenting that he looked a little grey. Looking back Kevin reckons he was probably having a heart attack while waiting in the pharmacy to pay for a heartburn remedy, but at the time he was convinced it was indigestion. The pain seemed to ease, though there was still a dull ache and Kevin’s week continued, though unknown to him the blockage that had caused the heart pain was slowly shifting from his heart to his brain.
On Saturday, while Kevin was at work, suddenly he lost the ability to speak and his face started drooping on one side. His mobility was unaffected so he hurried over to his boss and tried to explain that something was wrong. Thankfully his boss had seen the FAST campaign, which is designed to make people aware of the symptoms of a stroke, and called 999. The ambulance was with them in no time and soon he was being treated for a stroke in Altnagelvin’s A&E department.
The blood tests also showed a high level of troponin in his blood, which meant, in the words of the cardiologist, that he had had “at least one cardiac event”. At that moment Kevin realised his indigestion had been a heart attack.
Thankfully Kevin responded well to the stroke treatment and within 4–5 hours his speech returned. By Sunday evening he had no stroke symptoms at all and has made a complete recovery. Looking round the ward, though, he knew just how lucky he had been that his boss had recognised the stroke and had taken such swift action.
Once the stroke had been dealt with, attention turned to Kevin’s heart. On Monday morning he was taken to the Cath Lab to have one stent inserted. Within 2 weeks, the initial feeling of grogginess had passed and Kevin began his Cardiac Rehab. At first he thought that doing exercise instead of resting was strange, but the team explained that the heart is a muscle and you make build it up through exercise not by rest. Now he is fit and healthy, and taking every preventative measure he can to ensure it will never happen again.
Kevin considers himself to be extremely fortunate that the quick actions of his boss, and the dedication, skill and caring of the staff at Altnagelvin have given him a second chance. He knows that everyone’s story will not have the same ending as his own and that is why he is backing our campaign to make people more aware of the signs of a heart attack. He says that being aware of the symptoms and taking quick action could turn a potentially catastrophic life event into a mere inconvenience.
Find out more about the cardiac support services that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offer.