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Alf Craig who has a long family history of heart disease

“I'm still here”: Alf’s heart story



“I'm still here”: Alf’s heart story

Blog: 13 June 2023

Like many Australians, 70-year-old Alf Craig has a long family history of heart disease.

His father, a smoker with a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, had a heart attack aged 42 and was diagnosed with arterial sclerosis, and his uncle had also had a stroke in his 40s.

In retrospect, Alf knows he saw the signs. Years of presenting with symptoms of heart disease, including an admission to hospital in 1993, were in hindsight, recognised by medical professionals as heart disease "on the creep," as he called it.

But it wasn’t until a major heart event in 2015 at the age of 62 that heart disease was confirmed. An angiogram revealed he had three blockages in arteries supplying blood to his heart muscle, one 98%, one 95% and another 93% blocked. That year, on 28th March, the same day as his heart attack, Alf gave up smoking for good.

I'd just spent time in hospital after a very scary event, received two stents for blockages, but as soon as I got home, out of habit I reached for a smoke on the table," says Alf. "I thought... wait a minute – do you want this?"

Alf Craig

The answer was a resounding no, and from that day Alf decided to make some changes.

Following the heart event and having two stents implanted, he went into a cardiac rehabilitation program. He found the six-week program reaffirming. "It was helpful in answering the questions I didn't know the answers to, and confirming the things I did," says Alf. "To have others around you spurring you on and you spurring them on. It is a sense of community you need during that time.”

Eighteen months later, Alf went back to receive a third stent to repair the final blockage, which meant he needed further cardiac rehab. While he was not quite happy with how he performed the first time around, he blitzed the second program.

"It doesn’t happen all at once. In the time between [the two experiences at cardiac rehab], it was a tweak here, a tweak there. Eating more healthy meals, two walks every day, for example. It was in eighteen months; that's where I saw the impact of the small changes."

This week is Men’s Health Week, a cause Alf is passionate about, particularly when it comes to encouraging men to take care of their health and build that sense of community he felt at cardiac rehab.

Mental health and heart disease are unfortunately interlinked. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that more than half (54%) of people with a need for assistance or support were 65 years and over, and of those, more than one-quarter (27%) live alone. Many men over the age of 65 dealing with a recent heart event and the change in lifestyle required to recover, can find it isolating and increasingly difficult without support to lean on.

"Stress and depression are enemies to the cause,” as Alf says. In the block where he lives, all the residents are men, and they all have varying experiences with heart disease, making social connectedness and community more important than ever. “Next door, downstairs and all through the block, many have some sort of experience whether it’s with stroke or bypass surgery."

To help foster more healthy lifestyles in the community, Alf has been looking to set up his own Men's Shed locally in Port Douglas. Until it attracts the funding and interest it needs to kick off, he continues with the little things, putting together a gym at home, with a boxing bag, rowing machine and repurposed exercise bike.

As we speak, Alf had just completed three-quarters of the Heart Foundation’s Beating Hearts Bootcamp challenge before his GP notified him that he may need a fourth stent procedure in the coming months. While understandably frustrated, he’s learnt to listen to his body, and is using the mindset he learnt in cardiac rehab to guide the way forward – reiterating, “I’m still here.”

In his own words – a tweak here, a tweak there. It doesn’t happen all at once. But give it time, persevere, and you’ll see the impact of the small changes. What better time to start than today?

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Last updated13 June 2023