Following a heart attack, a coronary intervention or receiving a diagnosis of heart disease, dealing with the consequences can prove to be something of an ordeal. For most people there will be understandable physical, psychological and emotional challenges ahead and a return to anything like normality is often a daunting prospect. One of our members faced the additional personal challenge: getting fit enough to regain his pilot’s license. In his own words David runs us through what happened to him, and how he overcame a whole lot more than the challenge of a heart disease diagnosis and the consequential surgery:

“Many years ago, I realised my ambition to take my heart and play with the clouds, this was when I was handed my pilots licence. I had spent many hours training in the air, taking six written exams, passing two flying tests and of course undergoing a stringent flying medical. Since that time, just under 30 years ago, I have experienced the thrill, excitement and the freedom of flying like a bird, often accompanied by my wife, who is also a pilot.

In the autumn of 2017, when I had passed my biannual flight test, I underwent the mandatory annual Aero Medical. At the end of the medical, the AME (Aero Medical Examiner) dropped a bombshell, telling me I had not passed and he was suspending my flying licence. His reason; I had exceeded the heart attack factor, set by the Civil Aviation Authority, who set the statistical risk of a heart attack in the next ten years to be no more than 20%, mine was calculated at 28%.

I explained to the AME I had none of the symptoms of someone suffering with Cardio Vascular Disease, he was unmoved. He suggested I make an appointment with a cardiologist, with a view to having a full check of my heart.

Following a full cardiac review including many tests, I was informed I had restrictions in three of the main arteries of my heart. The restrictions were such that I had less than a 30% chance of a heart attack in the future. Surgery would dramatically improve this situation however risks were involved. After much discussion and deliberation with my wife, in February 2018, I underwent triple bypass surgery at Harefield Hospital, under the care of a top cardiac surgeon, Mr Raja and his incredible team. Four days after the surgery I left hospital taking a very clear message from him and his team, saying, “We don’t want to see you back here again”. Mr Raja and his team explained I needed to lose weight and change my lifestyle, with particular emphasis on exercise.

Within a month of surgery, I was walking one to one and a half miles a day. I was then invited by the local NHS hospital to attend their Cardiac Rehabilitation Classes, I attended all nine sessions. At the end of the rehabilitation sessions, I was encouraged to join a gym to continue the exercise regime. I was advised that Chesham Leisure Centre, part of GLL, had a Healthwise Coordinator who had a particular interest in Cardiac Rehabilitation. In May 2018, I met with Justin, their Healthwise Coordinator who designed a cardiac exercise programme for me; I have attended the gym on a weekly basis since that date. The programme has been regularly reviewed and suggestions made for additional exercises to carry out at home.

In early October, I was regularly walking three to four miles a day, weight was going down, and I felt fitter than I had for the last twenty years; I also had my final review with the Cardiologist, who stated I had made a full recovery, my heart was in A1 condition and he rather jokingly stated, “a man twenty years younger would be proud to have your heart”.

I owe much to the skill of my surgeon, Mr Raja and his team but in equal measure to the Healthwise Coordinator Justin, who has had a major impact on my path back to full heart health.

At the end of October 2018, I applied to the CAA to reinstate my pilots licence. Following a detailed Aero Medical Examination, I, along with my heart, were both passed fit to fly again and the CAA have now returned my licence. Almost immediately I took my heart again to play with the clouds.”

David age 74 - November 2018

David’s story is truly an inspiration and an example of what is possible despite the apparent odds. However, it should also be noted that David had adopted a very positive mind-set and has been and continues to be exceptionally proactive. His approach is a clear example of what works when the perceived wisdom and evidence based advice is followed. It has been a pleasure to be part of his progress, and observe his increasing confidence as an able and now wholly antonymous exerciser. Justin Banville, Healthwise Coordinator - Chilterns and South Bucks

Heart Disease and Cardiac Rehabilitation

When recovering from a heart event or heart surgery e.g. Heart Attack, Bypass Surgery, Angiography or other cardiac issues, there are a number of phases of rehabilitation. The initial first Phase of cardiac recovery ordinarily takes place in hospital after experiencing a heart event or intervention. Then Phase 2 is considered to be the recovery period at home. After a short while the person is likely to attend what’s known as a Phase III programme. Most Phase III elements are ordinarily exercise based courses run by Cardiac Rehabilitation Nurses and suitably qualified Exercise Instructors with additional Physiotherapy support if required. The part referred to as Phase IV is the long term maintenance of physical activity and lifestyle change. For effective recovery, the changes and gains made in the first three phases of Cardiac Rehabilitation should be maintained for the rest of a person’s life. By the time the recovering individual reaches referral to Phase 4, they are usually ready to either exercise alone or if preferred, in a supervised community based exercise group helped and observed by a specially trained instructor. Qualified instructors will be protocol compliant and trained to BACPR standards (British Association of Cardiac Prevention and Rehabilitation).

More generally, Cardiac rehabilitation is a programme of exercise and information sessions to help you get back on your feet again after a heart attack, heart surgery or procedure. The exercise based sessions will give you and your family the information, support and advice you need to get back to everyday life as efficiently and successfully as possible. Cardiac rehabilitation programmes will help you to:

  • Understand your condition
  • Recover from your surgery, procedure or heart attack
  • Make changes to your lifestyle that will help improve your heart health
  • Reduce the risk of further heart problems.

Cardiac rehabilitation is available to anyone who has had:

  • a heart attack
  • a coronary angioplasty
  • heart surgery
  • some people who have angina or heart failure
  • some people who have an ICD implanted

For further details on Cardiac Rehabilitation in your area speak with your GP, your hospital Cardiology department or contact your Better Leisure Centre Healthwise Coordinator on 07816 138421. References and further information: