I am
Show me:
Show me:
From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

Claude Lam, Open heart surgery survivor

7 min read

I’ve worked in the energy industry for over 13 years. My wife and I are blessed with a bubbly and cheeky three year old daughter, and are expecting another addition to the family in about six months! Life is pretty amazing, but it wasn’t always so bright.

Many people aren’t aware that I am also a survivor of open heart surgery. A little over a year ago, at age 37, I was diagnosed with heart disease. In fact, it was so severe that two of my arteries were found to be up to 90% blocked. The diagnosis was tough and it was only through pure luck, or a blessing as I view it, that I did not have a heart attack.

Being in my thirties, I thought I was bullet-proof and all the usual lifestyle indicators or what the doctors call ‘risk factors’ of heart disease were not present. Overweight? No. Smoker? No. Diabetic? No. High Cholesterol? No. High Blood Pressure? No. Drinker? No. Sedentary life? No. In fact, physical activity had always been a part of my life. I believed in the ‘no pain, no gain’ concept and four weeks prior to my diagnosis I had participated in a mini triathlon.

So how did I find out I had heart disease? And what was my reaction? It happened on any normal day. I was driving home from work on the freeway and lost consciousness at the wheel. My recollection is a little fuzzy. One moment I was driving and the next I was waking up in an ambulance not knowing how I got there.

How I didn’t injure myself in the car crash or kill others was simply amazing. I was utterly confused and completely scared. I was sent to the local emergency department.  The medics and doctors thought I had either suffered a seizure, had an epileptic episode or fell asleep at the wheel. After a very long one and a half months of hospital visits, scans and tests, they eliminated any neurological problems (great!) but found I had accelerated heart disease and was at high risk of a cardiac event at any moment. Yep, at age 37.

Everybody deals with challenges in life and we all have different reactions and coping mechanisms, but I had never had to deal with news of this magnitude and, at my age, it was the last thing on my mind. After all, I thought it was an ‘old’ person’s disease!

What I have learnt from the medical profession is that nothing is 100% certain and everything carries some risk. In my case it was clear that doing nothing carried the greatest risk and was not an option.

The doctors and specialists were surprisingly divided in which treatment they recommended. This made it extremely difficult for me to decide which option to take next.

Do I have minor surgery (which was stenting) or major surgery - that is cut my chest open and have a heart operation?

Choosing which path to take was one of the most difficult moments. I consoled in my wife, spoke at length to close friends, researched online and often found myself staring into space thinking about my life and silently panicking. I also sought second and third medical opinions; something I strongly recommend to everyone faced with a life-threatening prognosis if there is time. I also learnt that it is common for medical practitioners to seek more than one opinion before proceeding with their own personal medical intervention. That in itself says a lot! What was pretty clear to me was I HAD to make a decision, and SOON, and any further delays were putting my life at risk.

A very candid and personal conversation with my now cardiologist provided me with just the right incentive. Open heart double bypass surgery would give me the best chance of long term survival. Yes, there was a 5% chance of death, yes it would be a very long and potentially painful three months of recovery, and yes I would have a massive scar on my chest for the rest of my life - but heck, I wanted to be around to see my daughter grow up.

Long story short, I chose open heart surgery and my advice to others is to listen to your intuition, as well as the facts, data and medical advice.

From that moment, a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. After saying yes to surgery, I was scheduled for an operation in two days’ time. I went private and the cardiothoracic surgeon who I had met with a week prior and had an instant “connection” with would be performing the operation.

I vividly remember the night before my admission. I said goodbye to mum and dad and my then two year old daughter. I held back my tears as the thoughts of ‘will I ever get to see them again’ played in my mind. My eyes welled up with tears as I left in the car for hospital. It was terrifying.

The surgery was a success and given my age and level of fitness, my recovery was quick. I was coined the ‘poster-boy’ of cardiac surgery in the ward. Mind you everyone else was 20 to 40 years older than me! I took three months off work for my rehab and as much as it was physical, it was also a process of mental rehabilitation.

Unfortunately the cardiac rehabilitation process offered to me was abysmal so I took it upon myself to take charge. This meant booking regular appointments to see my GP. Previously I only visited the GP for the common cold or flu. Now I have a family GP; one that knows my complete history and who I will have a relationship with for the rest of my life.

Rehabilitation meant following a self-imposed exercise program (albeit very slowly – I was on my trainer bike after two weeks and walking every day). Who knew walking could be so much fun!

I saw a dietitian to get tips on better eating and I had several sessions with a mental health expert. As my physical strength and personal confidence built, I found a strong urge to reach out and find others who were also living with a heart condition. Through the Heart Foundation I connected to other young adults and also offered my time for volunteering.

One year later and I have pretty much resumed all of my previous physical activities. I no longer push myself to the absolute limits. Not because I can’t, but mainly because I can and therefore really enjoy and absorb the experience. I now practise yoga twice a week, and importantly for me I found a connection back with God and feel at home with a Church that was introduced to me by my sister-in-law. The balance between the body (physical) and mind (emotional) is important to me and I’m still trying to achieve that balance. My diet has completely changed and my relationships with my family and friends now take on a more meaningful tune.

The healing comes with time and I am embracing it as who I am now. The physical scar on my chest acts as daily reminder of my vulnerability, but also a reminder of my strength. I still have moments of self-doubt or anxiousness, but I think that is natural. In a world where there are so many people facing far worse conditions or health issues, I can say I feel truly blessed to have gone through this entire process.

Hindsight of course always brings clarity. While there is no guarantee I won’t require surgery again, I’m happy that I have managed to remain positive, ridden the lows and highs, and continue to remind myself that I can only control what I can control.

My outlook on life is definitely more positive and I am learning to enjoy the simple moments as much as possible. From diagnosis, to surgery and then rehab, the journey still continues and it is my beautiful wife, family, close friends and my faith that has gotten me through it all.

I don’t believe heart disease at my age should define who I am or restrict how I think or feel. I have many things to look forward to, one of which is a new baby. I hope by sharing my story with others who are going through a similar experience, they can take some comfort that life does not stop at diagnosis.  Yes it’s a BIG change. But depending on how you choose to view it, life becomes more precious and magnificent.

P.S I eventually found out that there is a strong history of heart disease on my Dad’s side, so I believe genetics was a huge factor in my condition.

Discover more heart stories  

WHAT NEXT?

At the heart of Mother’s Day

At the heart of Mother’s Day

At the heart of Mother’s Day

Three people living with heart disease share how their Mums helped them face their health challenges....

Alcohol action plan

Alcohol action plan

Heart stories

Heart stories

Heart stories

Stories of hope from Australian men and women fighting heart disease....

Being a carer for a heart attack patient

Being a carer for a heart attack patient

Being a carer for a heart attack patient

Your role as a carer for a heart attack patient is an important one – explore some useful things to know....

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

Running has been an important part of Boyd's life, so imagine his shock when a heart condition he had never heard of threatened to put a stop to it. ...

Blood pressure action plan

Blood pressure action plan

Key steps that can help you manage your blood pressure....

What is cardiac rehab?

What is cardiac rehab?

What is cardiac rehab?

Cardiac rehab is proven to keep you out of hospital and reduce your risk of death from heart conditions....

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Find a cardiac rehabilitation service near you

Find a cardiac rehabilitation service near you

This cardiac services directory presents information on cardiac rehab programs offered across Australia....

Cardiac rehabilitation information for health professionals

Cardiac rehabilitation information for health professionals

Useful cardiac rehabilitation resources for health professionals....

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril suffered a heart attack in 2015. Cardiac rehab helped get his life back on track. ...

Cholesterol and triglycerides action plan

Cholesterol and triglycerides action plan

Key steps that can help you manage your cholesterol and triglyceride levels....

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Explore our guide for driving and heart attack recovery. ...

Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem

Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem

Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem

Dan was six minutes into his treadmill session when his heart stopped beating....

Diabetes action plan

Diabetes action plan

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

This is a guide to how you might be feeling after a heart attack. ...

David’s shock heart failure diagnosis was just the start of a tough journey

David’s shock heart failure diagnosis was just the start of a tough journey

David’s shock heart failure diagnosis was just the start of a tough journey

David's heart failure diagnosis led to significant changes in his life....

Get heart attack recovery emails

Get heart attack recovery emails

Get heart attack recovery emails

The Heart Foundation has designed a series of emails to help people who've had heart attacks (and their loved ones) through their recovery....

Sorting out your finances after a heart attack

Sorting out your finances after a heart attack

Sorting out your finances after a heart attack

Explore how to manage your financial concerns after a heart attack. ...

Debbie's heart story

Debbie's heart story

Debbie's heart story

Debbie decided to give cardiac rehab a go and hasn’t looked back since. ...

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Got a question about your heart?...

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Eating healthy foods can help you recover and reduce your risk of more heart problems. ...

Cardiac arrest at 33: the challenges of restarting your life

Cardiac arrest at 33: the challenges of restarting your life

Cardiac arrest at 33: the challenges of restarting your life

Emma shares her story and opens up about her emotional struggles....

Nutrition action plan

Nutrition action plan

Heart attack medication

Heart attack medication

Heart attack medication

There are a number of medications you could be prescribed after a heart attack...

Exercising for heart and soul

Exercising for heart and soul

Exercising for heart and soul

Alicia Philipatos was three days old when her heart condition was diagnosed...

Physical activity action plan

Physical activity action plan

Heart attack recovery – your first month

Heart attack recovery – your first month

Heart attack recovery – your first month

Explore the Heart Foundation’s guide on what to expect in the first month after your heart attack. ...

Gary's heart story

Gary's heart story

Gary's heart story

Gary's heart attack came without warning....

Psychological and social health action plan

Psychological and social health action plan

Key steps that can help you manage your emotional health....

Heart attack recovery – quit smoking

Heart attack recovery – quit smoking

Heart attack recovery – quit smoking

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. Get the facts on quitting and how it can help you recover. ...

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

I’d always thought of myself as fairly fit; I swam a lot, and did ‘soft running’, a combination of running and walking. ...

Quit smoking action plan

Quit smoking action plan

Heart procedures and devices

Heart procedures and devices

Heart procedures and devices

If you have a heart condition, your doctor may recommend treatment or procedures...

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Thankfully for Grant Byrne, a lifelong Led Zeppelin fan, some quick thinking helped him avoid a stairway to heaven. Read Grant’s heart attack story now. ...

Long-term recovery after a heart attack

Long-term recovery after a heart attack

Long-term recovery after a heart attack

Information to help you adjust to what could be the 'new normal'...

Heart attack at 35: Knowing the signs and symptoms

Heart attack at 35: Knowing the signs and symptoms

Heart attack at 35: Knowing the signs and symptoms

David reflects on how his life changed when he had a heart attack at 35 and how he got back on track....

My Heart, My Life - Managing your heart health

My Heart, My Life - Managing your heart health

My Heart, My Life - Managing your heart health

This booklet is for those diagnosed with heart disease and their support people....

Helen's heart story

Helen's heart story

Helen's heart story

It wasn’t until Helen's second heart attack that she realised the importance of exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet....

Nutrition after a heart attack

Nutrition after a heart attack

Nutrition after a heart attack

Discover key information on heart-healthy eating and drinking....

How a pacemaker at 34 saved my life

How a pacemaker at 34 saved my life

How a pacemaker at 34 saved my life

Kim shares the emotional and physical upheaval experienced on her journey to diagnosis and recovery....

Physical activity after a heart attack

Physical activity after a heart attack

Physical activity after a heart attack

Discover what you need to know about being active after a heart attack....

I’m a mum and I survived a heart attack

I’m a mum and I survived a heart attack

I’m a mum and I survived a heart attack

Nicola, mum of 2, shares her heart attack recovery story....

Relationships and sex after a heart attack

Relationships and sex after a heart attack

Relationships and sex after a heart attack

Explore some useful things to know about intimacy after a heart attack....

Help others in need through a gift in your Will

Help others in need through a gift in your Will

Help others in need through a gift in your Will

Ian “did not hesitate” to leave 100% of his estate to the Heart Foundation....

Returning to work after a heart attack

Returning to work after a heart attack

Returning to work after a heart attack

Discover how to plan for your return to work....

The one that took Jan’s breath away

The one that took Jan’s breath away

The one that took Jan’s breath away

Open heart surgery to treat damaged heart valves has improved Jan's overall health....

Support after a heart attack

Support after a heart attack

Support after a heart attack

Many different thoughts may go through your head after a heart attack and you may be presented with complicated medical info. Know where to get support. ...

Jo's heart story

Jo's heart story

Jo's heart story

Joanne had five stents inserted into her heart in her early forties. Fifteen years later she had a triple bypass....

Taking your medicines

Taking your medicines

Taking your medicines

There are many medicines that treat heart attack, angina, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other heart conditions....

Join Kate in making a difference to future generations

Join Kate in making a difference to future generations

Join Kate in making a difference to future generations

Kate wanted to find a way she could make a difference to future generations...

Learning that heart disease can strike at any age

Learning that heart disease can strike at any age

Learning that heart disease can strike at any age

Lessons learned: recovering from open heart surgery

Lessons learned: recovering from open heart surgery

Lessons learned: recovering from open heart surgery

After having five open heart surgeries between the ages of 13 and 41, Peter knows a thing or two about recovery....

Love mends broken hearts on Valentine’s Day

Love mends broken hearts on Valentine’s Day

Love mends broken hearts on Valentine’s Day

Today, Cupid is busy slinging arrows. Perhaps, you are frantic buying flowers or chocolates, booking dinner or penning a pitter-patter inducing poem....

Margaret's heart story

Margaret's heart story

Margaret's heart story

Margaret was young, fit and otherwise healthy but suffered a major heart attack that could have devastated her life...

Maryanne was shocked to find she had a hidden heart problem

Maryanne was shocked to find she had a hidden heart problem

Maryanne was shocked to find she had a hidden heart problem

At first, it didn’t cross my mind it could be something serious. ...

My role as a cardiac nurse

My role as a cardiac nurse

My role as a cardiac nurse

Michelle shares her experiences working as a cardiac nurse at the Royal Melbourne Hospital....

Norm discovered he was at risk of a major heart attack just in the nick of time

Norm discovered he was at risk of a major heart attack just in the nick of time

Norm discovered he was at risk of a major heart attack just in the nick of time

Norm didn’t worry too much about his cholesterol problem – until an angiogram revealed he had an 80 per cent blockage in a major heart artery. ...

Peter is breathing easy again after heart valve surgery

Peter is breathing easy again after heart valve surgery

Peter is breathing easy again after heart valve surgery

Peter has lived with a rare heart condition since he was 14, but hadn’t given it too much thought until his 30s....

Peter's heart story

Peter's heart story

Peter's heart story

After his heart attack Peter felt incredibly demoralised....

Sharing scars, and more, on Valentine’s Day

Sharing scars, and more, on Valentine’s Day

Sharing scars, and more, on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day; some people celebrate, other’s vehemently oppose it. Whatever your opinion, it’s important to remember that the day is about love. All forms of it....

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy, Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack. However, after experiencing a ‘widow maker’, she counts herself lucky....

Three young people living with heart disease share how they are dealing with COVID-19

Three young people living with heart disease share how they are dealing with COVID-19

Three young people living with heart disease share how they are dealing with COVID-19

Rachel, Angela and Lea are all young and living with heart conditions. ...

Two stories at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic

Two stories at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic

Two stories at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic

Savannah and Gerry, two Australians living with heart disease share their COVID-19 stories....

Warren's heart story

Warren's heart story

Warren's heart story

Warren suffered a heart attack while on a skiing holiday in Thredbo....

Women's heart stories

Women's heart stories

Women's heart stories

Women's stories from around Australia...

Support and resources for health care professionals

Support and resources for health care professionals

Support and resources for health care professionals

Our range of clinical and patient support resources are available for you to use in your daily practice....

Understanding your heart age

Understanding your heart age

Understanding your heart age

Try our Heart Age Calculator to understand what contributes to your risk of heart disease...

My Heart, My Life - Managing your heart health

My Heart, My Life - Managing your heart health

My Heart, My Life - Managing your heart health

This booklet is for those diagnosed with heart disease and their support people....

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Join the fight against Australia’s biggest killer by supporting the Heart Foundation.  ...

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Join the Heart Foundation community. Together, we can make a real difference for Australian hearts. ...

The Heart Foundation Research Program

The Heart Foundation Research Program

The Heart Foundation Research Program

We are Australia’s biggest non-government funder of world-class research into heart health. Learn more about our high impact research. ...

Cook with Heart

Cook with Heart

Cook with Heart

Join the Cook with Heart Challenge as seen on Channel 7...

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Full list of clinical guidlines and references for CVD, heart failure, ACS, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, SCAD and RHD...

Stay informed about COVID-19

Stay informed about COVID-19

Stay informed about COVID-19

If you have heart disease, you are more vulnerable to severe complications....

Wholegrains and heart health

Wholegrains and heart health

Wholegrains and heart health

All you need to know about wholegrains to put you on the right track...

Absolute CVD risk assessment resources

Absolute CVD risk assessment resources

Resources and clinical information for health professionals...

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Got a question about your heart?...

Absolute CVD risk assessment practical update webinar

Absolute CVD risk assessment practical update webinar

A multidisciplinary panel of experts discuss the practical application of absolute CVD risk assessment through Heart Health Checks....

Women's heart stories

Women's heart stories

Women's heart stories

Women's stories from around Australia...

Australian Heart Maps

Australian Heart Maps

Australian Heart Maps

Our Heart Maps allow you to take a closer look at heart disease indicators across Australia....

Become a corporate partner

Become a corporate partner

Become a corporate partner

Partner with us to help us fight for Australian hearts....

Heart Safe Community

Heart Safe Community

Heart Safe Community

Heart Safe Community is a program that aims to increase a person’s chance of survival if they suffer a cardiac arrest outside of hospital. ...

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in Australian women. ...

Keeping your heart healthy

Keeping your heart healthy

Keeping your heart healthy

Keeping your heart healthy is something you can work on every day. ...

Fats, oils and heart health

Fats, oils and heart health

Fats, oils and heart health

Get the right balance of healthy fats in your diet ...

Order patient resources online

Order patient resources online

Search and order from our range of printed patient resources online. ...

Heart health information in your language

Heart health information in your language

A selection of heart health information brochures in a range languages...

Italian recipes

Italian recipes

Italian recipes

Find heart healthy Italian recipes....

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

I’d always thought of myself as fairly fit; I swam a lot, and did ‘soft running’, a combination of running and walking. ...

Reading food labels

Reading food labels

Reading food labels

Nutrition information panels and ingredients lists are a good way of comparing similar foods so you can choose the healthiest option....

Hypertension clinical information and guidelines

Hypertension clinical information and guidelines

Clinical information for diagnosis and management of hypertension....

What is coronary heart disease?

What is coronary heart disease?

What is coronary heart disease?

Coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease occurs when a coronary artery clogs and narrows because of a buildup of plaque....

Supporting Your Emotional Wellbeing: An Online Forum for Young Heart Patients

Supporting Your Emotional Wellbeing: An Online Forum for Young Heart Patients

Supporting Your Emotional Wellbeing: An Online Forum for Young Heart Patients

Sat May 23 2020
Free

COVID-19 & cardiovascular disease

COVID-19 & cardiovascular disease

COVID-19 & cardiovascular disease

Information and resources for health care professionals....

Pilbara Aboriginal Heart Health Program

Pilbara Aboriginal Heart Health Program

Pilbara Aboriginal Heart Health Program

The program works with local communities to improve heart healthcare in Pilbara communities...