Making most of second chance

By Peter Thornton

Heart attack survivor says the experience has changed his outlook on life

Graeme Joyes (right) was buoyed by the support he received at the Taupo Half Marathon. Photo / Super Sport Images
Graeme Joyes (right) was buoyed by the support he received at the Taupo Half Marathon. Photo / Super Sport Images

Graeme Joyes has been given a second chance at life and he is determined to make the most of it.

The feeling of being supported home by the locals at the Taupo Half Marathon (21.1km) walk in August alongside his wife Heather and daughter Wendy was quite surreal.

Joyes got home in just over four hours and it was a long way from where he has been.

Two years ago the radio station manager experienced a Father's Day lunch he would never forget.

He had a heart attack and knew exactly what it was as he had recently done some radio programmes on heart attacks.

"It was like an elephant kneeling on my chest combined with a huge hot flush," recalled the 59-year-old from Wellington.

Lucky for Joyes the Wellington Free Ambulance rescue vehicle was parked down the road.

An angiogram the next day in Wellington Hospital revealed a serious defect that caused the potentially fatal heart attack. Joyes said the doctor was frank and excellent.

"He calmly explained the next attack would be instantly fatal, I would not survive. Hence I had a quadruple bypass, on my 58th birthday. And just to top it off, I had my gall bladder out exactly one year later on my 59th birthday."

Joyes doesn't need much reminding of the second chance he has been given. These days he is far more conscious of his diet and he tries to walk every day.

"I never have a bad day, every day is a good day, some are better than others," he said. "I can't be bothered with twaddle. And if the lawns need mowing I don't care."

People who survive a big health scare often talk about feeling like they have taken life for granted. It's something that Joyes relates to.

"It has changed me. It's hard to define. I spent a night working through the fact I could die that night. That didn't worry me, what did worry me was Heather didn't know where my life insurance policy was in the filing cabinet.

"It did screw with my brain for a while. Other people have heart attacks ... not me. Then I look at the scars and that motivates me to keep up the exercise etc. If the NZ taxpayers have spent this much on me, I need to respect that and do my bit."

He has been doing his bit on the long road back to full fitness. He found the first part, post-surgery, extremely tough. "Bypass surgery is like being hit by a truck doing 100km/h. But I was determined to regain health so I stuck at it."

Right at the start Joyes decided the medical stuff was outside of his control "but I could do everything about my attitude".

He read the literature in the heart ward that said those who didn't exercise, take their medication and watch their diet died in two to three years and that was all the motivation he needed.

He followed the instructions of the hospital staff, Heart Foundation and cardiac support religiously.

"If the programme said: walk 10 minutes, I walked exactly 10 minutes. I must add that the support of Heather, my family and friends was absolutely vital."

Graeme and Heather share a close bond. They met in the third form at Taumarunui High School in 1967 and celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary this month.

They have two daughters, who are both high school teachers, one son-in-law and one granddaughter.

The hard part of Joyes' recovery was the physical limitations caused by the heart attack and surgery but he was determined. Slowly the fitness returned and the pain reduced.

To get the vein for the bypass the surgeon removed the vein from his left leg, ankle to groin.

"This was extremely painful. I remember the celebration when I walked to the gate and back, and when I walked 200m to the end of the street I was ecstatic."

He now has renewed goals for his fitness. The former footballer doesn't run because his knees "are too old" so he walks and will get back on the bike this summer.

"Walking is more than exercise. I enjoy the sights and smells. I stop and talk to people. Sometimes I get home from a 15km walk, tired but with a sense of enjoying life."

He aims to walk an hour a day, about three or four days a week and a 12-15km walk in the weekend.

The cardiac nurse who checks him every three months helps Joyes set targets.

The Taupo Half Marathon on August 3 was his target. He hoped to complete it in four hours, but realistically expected to do four-and-a-half.

"So to do four hours and 52 seconds was great. My next goal will be the Half Marathon in Wellington in February. Long term, I wonder about taking on a whole marathon."

Joyes has simple advice for other heart attack survivors.

"Follow the advice of the hospital staff and the Heart Foundation. They have rehabilitated many people and they know what they're doing. Yes, it's painful and hard work, but the options make it worthwhile.

"Enjoy life. Life is great and is meant to be enjoyed. Too many people only focus on the negative.

"Go out, buy some shoes, go for a long walk and ignore the lawns, who cares, it's only grass. I walked a half marathon 22 months after bypass surgery, 10 months after having my gall bladder out. I'm no super athlete, if I can do it, so can anyone."

- NZ Herald

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