Cardiac rehabilitation charity Heartbeat, based in Preston, is celebrating 35 years of supporting heart patients. AASMA DAY talks to Graham Kirkham, of Mrs Kirkham’s Cheeses, who says Heartbeat turned his life around after he suddenly suffered a heart attack at the age of 44.
When Graham Kirkham tells people he suffered a heart attack and underwent a quadruple bypass at the age of just 44, he gets a knowing look followed by the words: “Too much cheese was it!”
However, Graham, a cheesemaker at Mrs Kirkham’s Cheeses in Goosnargh, Preston, thought he was fairly fit and active and never imagined he would suffer a heart attack at such a young age.
Graham, who lives with partner Kelly Whitehead and has five-year-old daughter Jasmine, says a heart attack was so far from his mind, he dismissed the pains he was suffering as indigestion.
Graham, who had his heart attack in November last year, recalls: “I had a bit of discomfort in my stomach which felt a bit like indigestion.
“So I just took some indigestion tablets and ignored the pains for a few days.
“But when the pains would not go away, I thought I better nip into hospital and get a prescription or something.
“It was a Sunday morning and I was on my way to a Christmas market in Manchester and had a van full of cheese and thought I would just go into hospital on my way.
“I was so confident I would just go in, pick up a prescription and then be on my way, that I just parked outside the hospital and went in. But I ended up being kept in.”
Graham was hooked to an ECG machine and had a number of tests. When he told the consultant he needed to get going, he was stunned to be told that he wouldn’t be going anywhere as he was having a heart attack.
Graham says: “I just could not believe it. It seemed impossible. You just assume heart attacks happen to people a lot older and it just seemed ludicrous I was having one at the age of 44.”
Graham was taken to the Lancashire Cardiac Centre in Blackpool by ambulance in just 14 minutes.
It was discovered Graham had a blocked artery and he underwent angioplasty where a “balloon like” procedure is used to widen narrow arteries. Specialists told Graham that other arteries were also blocked and advised him to have a triple heart bypass which he had just days later.
Graham explains: “They felt if I had the bypass at my age, I would bounce back a lot quicker. If I had chosen not to have it, it would have meant constant hospital trips and I would only have been putting off the inevitable.”
It was after Graham was discharged from hospital that he was put in touch with Heartbeat, which supports heart patients with rehabilitation. Heartbeat, based at Pond House on Garstang Road, Preston, is a professionally supervised programme designed to help people recover from heart attacks, heart surgery and coronary procedures.
It provides long term cardiac rehabilitation programmes which provide education and support to allow heart patients to increase physical fitness, reduce cardiac symptoms, improve health and cut the risk of future problems.
Graham says: “After having a heart attack and bypass, you feel frightened when it comes to exercise even though you know you need it.
“I was nervous and tentative about exercising as I did not know what would happen. But the team at Heartbeat put me at ease. You go there twice a week for exercise under supervision and within weeks, you love the place and can’t wait until the next time you go.
“It is great as you are in the company of like-minded people who have all been through similar heart procedures.
“I felt so much better after going to Heartbeat as it filled me with confidence and gave me a new lease of life. I could feel myself getting fitter.
“The cardiac rehabilitation is structured and there are nurses on hand to support you. At the end of the six-week rehabilitation programme at Heartbeat, you can carry on attending by paying a fee.
“I decided to stay and will carry on going to Heartbeat for as long as they will have me.
“It is better than going to an ordinary gym as you have all the medical backup you need.
“I now feel like I am back in my mid 20s.”
Graham, the son of Ruth Kirkham – Mrs Kirkham of Mrs Kirkham’s Cheeses – says because he worked on a farm and had a physically active job, he had never considered he was at risk of heart problems.
He explains: “I thought I was bullet-proof as I was never ill and worked long hours in a very physical job.
“But I now realise that because this was my normal activity, I was not raising my heart rate enough and should have done exercise on top.
“People make a stand ing joke about the fact I am a cheesemaker and say: ‘Too much cheese was it?’ when they hear I had a heart attack.
“But a match-boxed size piece of cheese a day is good for you as it is full of calcium.
“It is all about eating in moderation.
“I did eat a lot of cheese, but I think the reason I had a heart attack was because I have a history of heart disease on both sides of the family.
“My diet probably wasn’t great before the heart attack as I ate a lot of bacon, egg and sausage which are high in saturated fat.
“Since joining Heartbeat, I have lost around two stones in weight.
“I still work like a maniac but now I make time to go to Heartbeat for exercise and love spending time playing with my daughter Jasmine.”