Davina overcomes the shock of a lifetime to recover from a traumatic heart story
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Davina overcomes the shock of a lifetime to recover from a traumatic heart story

Davina was going about her busy life when a visit to her GP revealed a series of heart conditions that changed her life.

Working at the University of Adelaide for over 40 years, Davina is a busy Executive Officer and PA at the Centre for Economic Studies. A passionate Port Adelaide Fan who loves reading, doing crosswords and spending time with her husband and daughters, Davina experienced a series of traumatic heart events in 2018. Joining her local Heart Foundation walking group helped to get her confidence back.

Davina's heart story

I had been having issues with sciatica (strong pains down the leg) and was recommended to have an injection in my spine to help with the pain. I had this on three occasions and each time the anaesthetist said that I should go to my GP and get checked out as my heartbeat was slower than normal. Each time I said to myself that I would visit the GP but as the days went past, and the busier I got, the more I forgot about it; I did eventually visit the GP but wasn’t able to see my normal one and was told I needed to walk faster to get my heart rate up. Something just didn’t sit right with me, so I decided to return to the GP clinic and was able to see my normal DR who sent me off to a cardiologist. 

The cardiologist ran some tests including a holter monitor test and an echocardiogram and then informed me that I would possibly require a pacemaker but to be sure he booked me in for an angiogram. After the angiogram I noticed the doctors  were doing a lot of whispering and whilst in recovery I was informed that I not only needed a pacemaker inserted but I needed to have an aortic valve replaced, a triple bypass and an aortic aneurysm repair.  The plan was to undergo the pacemaker first and then arrangements would be made for me to undergo the other procedures as quickly as possible.
I was in complete shock; this was so unexpected. I never thought that I had any heart issues let alone these serious conditions.

I didn’t have any symptoms although in hindsight I did on occasion find it difficult to get a deep breath, but I never thought that would be related to my heart.

Not long after my diagnosis, I went in for surgery to have my pacemaker inserted. This was a relatively easy procedure which only required an overnight stay in hospital.

Four weeks later, I underwent open heart surgery which included an aortic valve replacement, triple bypass and an aortic aneurysm repair. It was a big operation and my cardiothoracic surgeon said that the aneurysm would have most likely gotten me within a year. I couldn’t believe just how lucky I was.

I had undertaken my own research and was a little apprehensive about what I was facing, I found that there was a lot of ‘surgical’ information out there but not personal information. After my operation I spent time in the intensive care unit and I remained in hospital for a week, but I desperately wanted to get home. Hospitals are so noisy, and I wanted the comfort of my own bed and to be with my husband and family.

The day of my discharge from the hospital I was made aware of cardiac rehab, but this wasn’t followed up with me by the hospital so I never attended a rehab program which I really would have found valuable.

Recovery was a very slow process. I was in incredible pain and struggling to cope mentally. No one tells you how much pain and exhaustion you will experience. In a way I felt like I was suffering from post-traumatic stress. I wish there were more people that I could talk to who had gone through a similar story to me. I found it very hard and lonely and I didn’t know what to expect or how long the recovery would take.

To aid in my recovery, I set myself walking goals. Initially it was going from the back door to the front. Then it was getting outside and walking just a little bit further each day. I attended physio appointments which helped as well. My recovery was slow, and I ended up having to take two months off work.

Now two years on, my life is still getting back to normal. I have joined my local Heart Foundation walking group which I find fantastic. The walkers are so encouraging and friendly and I feel I can talk to them about the challenges I have faced, which has helped me immensely. I have a home monitoring system to help with my pacemaker and I have to take blood thinners for the rest of my life.  I have a home testing machine to keep a check on my INR (part of the monitoring required for my blood thinners) and have direct access to my GP either in person or via email. I also see my cardiologist yearly. 

I do still suffer from anxiety and worry about the little things like twinges, as I had no warning signs. I also wonder whether after all this surgery, my heart is considered good as new or rather an old patched up tyre. I think I am always going to be careful when it comes to my heart and don’t think that level of anxiety will ever leave.

One day I would love to be able to speak to patients who are preparing to undergo open heart surgery or those that have. I believe talking to somebody that has been in their position may aid their recovery phase and reassure them that both the physical and emotional pain they are feeling is real.

I remind myself that every day will get easier. I am back at work and enjoy spending time with my husband, daughters and dogs and doing the things I love most.

Davina's once piece of advice

Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to recover, don’t try and be a superhero. It’s important to talk to people about your situation as much as you can so that you are armed with all the information.


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