Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.
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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.

Gerry knows how lucky he is. If his heart attack had happened just two days earlier, on the flight home from London, he might not have survived. Now he’s eating better, exercising more and telling everyone he knows to have a heart health check. 

Gerry Cappeluti, 55, lives in Perth and until recently was a bio-security adviser and travelled extensively for work. He and his wife Anna – who he calls “his rock” – have two adult children, Matthew and Nicole.  

Gerry’s heart story 

“My son Matthew, who’s 26, and I love sport and got into Formula One car racing after watching it on television. In 2017 we started saving for a holiday of a lifetime to Europe, with the Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo the highlight. 

The trip was a year in the planning, and it didn’t disappoint. I’d never done anything like it before and we weren’t going to waste a minute. I was walking 10 to 15 kilometres a day exploring big cities like London, so it was no huge surprise that by the end of every day I was exhausted. 

I’d always thought of myself as fairly fit; I swam a lot, and did ‘soft running’, a combination of running and walking. But this fatigue was on another level. We hired a car and some days Matthew was worried that I’d fall asleep at the wheel I was so tired. 

And the food! I was grabbing snacks on the go, trying all sorts of exotic dishes and loading up on French pastries. We visited uncles and aunties in the Italian countryside, eating and drinking and seeing a side of the country that many never experience. So again, it was hardly surprising that I was getting this tight feeling in my chest that I put down to indigestion from over-indulging. 

Maybe I should have read more into the warning I got from a pharmacist in London when I was buying indigestion medication: he told me I should see a doctor about my ongoing ‘indigestion’ when I got back to Perth. I was fit, I was only 54 and I had recently started on medication for elevated cholesterol and blood pressure, more of a precaution, I thought, than because of a serious problem. It didn’t occur to me for a second that there could be something wrong with my heart. 
You see someone in a movie having a heart attack and they grab their chest ... well, it was nothing like that.
Watching Australian Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo win the Monaco Grand Prix was awesome, one of the best sporting moments in our lives. We both felt an incredible mix of joy and pride in hearing the national anthem as he cracked open the champagne on the podium. 

I’d been back in Perth for a couple of days and went to visit my sister for dinner and to tell her about the trip. We were talking and laughing when the strangest thing happened – the fingers on my left hand locked. It was as if they were frozen. It was so odd, we even joked about it.  

But then I felt a cramp and sudden heavy ache in my left arm, and it wasn’t funny anymore. Both my wife Anna and my sister thought it might be a heart attack and insisted on calling an ambulance. 

At the hospital, my ECG was fine, but my blood test was another story. Someone told me "You are having a heart attack. Now". I was in absolute shock. I couldn’t believe it. You see someone in a movie having a heart attack and they grab their chest ... well, it was nothing like that. I kept asking, “Are you sure?” I was in denial all the way. 

They rushed me into the Cath lab and inserted a stent to open my artery: my LAD (left anterior descending artery) had an 85 per cent blockage, and another a 50 per cent blockage that they decided to monitor for now. The stent probably saved my life. 

Now, of course, I look back and see all the classic signs. The fatigue. Some chest pain. A feeling like indigestion, but that wasn’t really indigestion. I was too stubborn to see the signs, but they were all there. I was actually having heart problems all the time we were overseas but was determined not to spoil it for my son. Yes, I know. It was stupid of me. 

After I got out of hospital, I started exercising slowly, walking our Jack Russells Pepe and Rocky, building up to much more exercise. I’m taking it seriously, hitting the treadmill four or five times a week for about 45 minutes. 

My wife and kids were fantastic, helping me out and encouraging me: “don’t eat this”, “do that”. I’ve lost some weight and although I thought my diet was pretty good before my heart attack, it’s even better now with more veg and fish. 
It’s my mission to educate all my family and friends about heart disease.
One friend I spoke to – like me, he was pretty fit, ate well and was only 56 – saw a doctor and he was quite shocked to find himself in hospital, assessed as a high risk of having a heart attack and in need of medication.  

Having a heart attack really puts things into perspective and I tell everyone: go and get the tests done.” 

Gerry’s one piece of advice  

Make sure you have a full medical check-up with your GP and make yourself aware of heart disease and heart attack symptoms (fatigue, chest pain, sweating). There could be nothing worse than having heart trouble in a foreign country away from your loved ones. 


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