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News > John’s wishes came true when he got the chance to meet Advice Line hero Tracey

John’s wishes came true when he got the chance to meet Advice Line hero Tracey

John Todd, heart attack survivor, stands with his family at a graduation.

Lifesaving is not a word John Todd bandies about easily. But when he speaks of the support he received from CHSS after having a heart attack, it’s the one that comes readily to mind.

John says: “What CHSS has done for me has been absolutely massive. It’s been incredible. Lifesaving is the word coming into my head, and it sounds over-dramatic, but CHSS has been so vital to my recovery.”

The 50-year-old became ill while on a bike ride with a friend close to his home in Strathpeffer, Ross-shire, in April last year. He was admitted to hospital twice where first one stent was fitted, then a second but still continued to suffer unexplained chest pain.

Like many people during the pandemic, Covid-19 hampered his recovery.

John, who was a partner in a firm of leading accountants, is now under the care of a neurologist and on experimental medication. Now, more than a year after his heart attack, he is determined to remain positive and upbeat.

The day it happened

Recalling the trauma of the day he suffered a heart attack, he says: “My job was a high-stress one, and I’ve always enjoyed cycling to help manage that stress. On that day, I was out with a friend. On the first hill, I lost my breath and knew something wasn’t right.

“Remarkably we finished the ride, though we did cut it short. I was desperate to get home to my wife because she knows about medical things. I had classic signs of pain shooting up and down my arm, a pain in my throat and a crushing feeling in my chest.”

“They pumped me with clot[1]busting drugs in the ambulance on the way to Raigmore Hospital, and I was stable by the time I was on the ward. After a couple of days, I had a stent fitted."

Despite still feeling chest pain after the stent, John was discharged but returned to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness in June 2021 for further tests. A second stent was required, but then the whole family, including John, contracted Covid.

John recalls: “It was very traumatic at the time. I was in a coronary care unit with a lot of patients who were much older than me, and I was worried about them.”

COVID complications

“After I tested positive, the nurses told me I could go home if I wanted. My daughter, who was also positive, waited at the front door and nurses dressed in big protective suits escorted me down there.

“I had quite bad covid symptoms, and although I didn’t have to go back into hospital, for a couple of weeks, I was completely floored – although pain free. Then the chest pains came back again."

It was at this point that Tracey Stronach, an occupational therapist on Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland’s Advice Line, got in touch with John, and things began to change for the better.

He says: “I was so desperate for help. I was really weak and in constant pain, and everyday tasks were beyond me. When Tracey first phoned me, it was perfect timing and a trigger just to open up and share my feelings. I was so desperate for support, and some of the things she gave me – coping mechanisms and therapy guides –I still use today."

Light at the end of the tunnel

John has been able to get back to the things that he loves

“The whole experience with CHSS has just been so positive for me. My wife Maree talks about how person-centred and holistic the support is from CHSS. It’s helped the whole family to recover.

“There have been times when I’ve gone to see a cardiologist, I would often come out of the meeting with my head spinning. But then I’d have my Friday afternoon call with Tracey, and it always just made me feel happy. She listened really carefully tome and helped me to find my strengths and find a way forward.

“Until recently I had never met Tracey – we had only ever had phone calls. Then I got the chance to meet her in Edinburgh, and it was wonderful because I feel like I’ve developed a bond with her. Her kindness has been wonderful. I keep thinking about how lucky I am to have got this.

Tracey has been a rock for me throughout this entire process."

Tracey recommended that John try therapy, and while it was not something he had ever contemplated before, he says those sessions have also been incredibly positive for his recovery.

He says: “My recovery has not been straightforward but passing the anniversary of the heart attack turned out to be a very positive experience. It felt like a milestone, like turning the corner.

“The support from CHSS has helped me let go of some of the things that were distressing me. It was a horrible experience, but I’ve come out the other side and I have found new strengths and learned so much about myself.“

Unassuming Samaritan

Tracey Stronach is the CHSS Advice and Support Practitioner who worked with John.

She says: “It was clear from the start of our calls that John’s heart attack had had a huge impact on his wellbeing. Call by call, he shared the effects of his illness, and we were able to use our sessions to discuss the things that mattered most to him.

“What helped in this process was John’s ability to share and trust me with his health information. I was then able to offer support, education and advice to help him in his journey. John was incredibly motivated to work towards his recovery, and I was touched by his offer to share his positive experience of the Chess support he had received with others.”

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