NHS AT 70: 'They gave me an extra 20 years of life'

Neil Sutcliffe
Neil Sutcliffe
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If it hadn’t been for the heroic medics of the NHS, Neil Sutcliffe would have died 20 years ago when he had a heart attack.

As the NHS prepares to celebrate its 70th birthday, Neil has said thank you to the staff who saved him and enabled him to watch his daughter Abbii grow up.

Today the Lancashire Post is asking readers who have been helped by the NHS to get in touch and share their stories, and help us celebrate the extraordinary work our free health service has provided since it was set up in 1948.

Lecturer Neil, who lives in Penwortham, said: “I celebrated the 20th anniversary of my heart bypass operation with my church, my friends and my family.

“I celebrated the positive of what can be done and how much life can be enjoyed and thanked so many people for their help and support over the years.”

Neil had his heart attack at the age of just 39, despite being a tee-total non-smoker who enjoyed running. He underwent a triple bypass after tests revealed he had blockages in his arteries.

The diagnosis was a real shock to Neil, who was training for a half-marathon at the time it all happened.

Neil, now 59, recalls: “I didn’t tick any of the warning boxes for heart problems. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, my blood pressure was fine and I was running marathons.

“I had routine medicals at work and I was told for a few years that my cholesterol was slightly raised but because there were no other issues, I was told it was nothing to worry about.”

Neil, who has a daughter Abbii, 22, who was two at the time, noticed he was experiencing pains in his left upper arm.

He went to see his GP who told him the pain was probably muscular and to run through it.

But six months later Neil was still having the pains so returned to the GP and saw a different doctor who suggested Neil have some tests to “eliminate” angina.

Instead of eliminating angina, the tests suggested Neil had heart issues and an angiogram showed two of his arteries were virtually blocked.

Neil remembers: “Soon after, I went to London for a meeting and was carrying a small case. I had to stop every 100 yards or so to put it down as I was getting pains.

“It was hard to believe only months earlier, I was running most days a week.”

Neil had a triple heart bypass at the Lancashire Cardiac Centre at Blackpool Victoria Hospital in March 1998.

The procedure was successful, but as he recoverd from surgery Neil recalls feeling daunted and unsure of what he would be able to do.

However, when he was discharged, Neil’s surgeon told him he wanted Neil to be walking six miles a day by six weeks after the operation.

He achieved this and he went for rehabilitation at Heartbeat in Preston which helped him a great deal.

Neil says: “Heartbeat had me running around the gym in no time. You think to yourself: ‘I’ve had a heart operation, should I be doing this?’

“But they know you can and their faith in you gives you belief in yourself.

“I began to realise they wouldn’t ask me to do it if their didn’t believe I could and if it would harm me.

“The medical team will tell you what you are and are not capable of doing and will support you.”

Since then, Neil has been living his life to the full and is immensely grateful for all he has done and experienced over the last 20 years.

His highlights from the last two decades include seeing his daughter graduate and celebrate her 21st birthday; walking the West Highland Way; completing his first post-op Great North Run; running a leg of the Queen’s Jubilee Baton Relay; standing on the Fourth Plinth at Trafalger Square as part of Antony Gormley’s exhibition; climbing Ben Nevis; cycling across the country twice on the C2C and then running the Great North Run the day after and doing the TransPennine Trail routes.

Neil also changed his job and discovered a new vocation teaching and is now a senior lecturer in accounting. He says: “I am a lay preacher so many people suggested I go into some sort of teaching.

“At UCLan, I get to interact with and encourage young minds stimulating them to face the challenges of their lives.

“My family is incredibly important to me and when I had my operation, my daughter was only two.

“To see her grow and develop and see how she has come on and to be able to share and contribute to her life has been brilliant.

“It is important to focus on the opportunities life has to offer and not be bogged down by the ‘what could have beens.’

“I am very optimistic facing my 21st year post-op and am thankful for all that God has blessed me with - life is for living and to the full.”

Neil, now suffers with diabetes and prostate issues - and is being supported by the NHS with these.

Neil says: “The NHS have been incredibly supportive of all the things I have been through.

“I would not be here today without the NHS and the professionalism of the staff who have kept me going.

“I can certainly appreciate why the NHS is the envy of many nations.

“I think it is very important that the NHS continues to treat those who otherwise could not afford to get medical help.”