I am
Show me:
Show me:
Heart attack at 35: Knowing the signs and symptoms
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

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.

What happened?

When David Oke had a heart attack at 35, his life changed overnight - but in ways quite unlike how an older person might have been affected. His career path, his earnings’ projections - even his initial capacity to be a father - were immediately shifted sideways.   

Now 57, David learned about life and death in October 1995. His mother had died suddenly of a brain aneurysm early in the month, his first child Daniel was born on the day of his mother’s funeral and then, three days after his tiny son came home from hospital, David felt dizzy and nauseous, with a dull pain in the centre of his chest.

These were the classic signs of a heart attack but, at only 35, it was not what he expected. Like many his age, David knew nothing about heart attack causes or even heart attack symptoms.

I was totally shocked. Thirty-five-year olds don’t have heart attacks. I had never been a smoker, and heart disease was not part of my family history.

In hospital, an angiogram revealed minimal damage to David’s heart, but he had to return to hospital a few days later with a deep-vein thrombosis in his leg and blood clots in his lungs. “The verdict was that when under lots of stress, my blood starts clotting unusually. Twenty-three years later I am still on daily Warfarin (blood thinning) tablets.”

Dealing with the challenges

The challenge for David after his heart attack was how to live with the adult responsibilities that come with being a father, husband, son – and teacher - while dealing with heart disease. His time in the cardiac ward had been confronting and depressing. “I was with other men much older than me and I hit rock bottom there.”

When he returned home, he had to take sick leave until the end of the school year but there were other challenges. “My son was a newborn baby and I couldn’t pick him up because we didn’t know for sure initially what had caused the heart attack. That was very sad.” 

David returned to teaching the following February but realised he would always have to watch his health and stress levels so would have to rethink his career ambitions. “I wasn’t absolutely sure I wanted to be a principal but early on I’d put in for higher duties. After the heart attack, I thought, no way can I be a principal now.”

After advice at cardiac rehabilitation, David did his best to exercise more, eat well and keep his stress levels under control.  

But, in those early years after his heart attack, it was a challenge juggling young children – his second son Liam was born in 2001 – and work. “I taught grades 5 and 6 for 13 years and you’re always bringing work home, correcting assignments, doing planning and paperwork.”

His energy levels also fluctuated and he often found himself exhausted. “Sometimes on a Saturday, I‘d just want to sleep.”

David’s story reflects the reality for many people that the normal demands of life can often get in the way of the best of intentions.  His exercise and health regime went well until the end of 1998 when more family pressures surfaced. 

“At that time, my father had been given a cancer diagnosis and wanted to die at home and not in a hospital. I took leave from work and, along with my two brothers and their partners, we nursed Dad at home, taking turns for the different shifts.”

David and his wife were juggling work, a very active three-year-old, and frequent daily and overnight stays with David’s father, an hour’s drive away. “During this period, I did have another overnight stay in hospital as some of that dizziness came back.”

Rediscovering motivation

Life muddled along and, in 2013, David’s wife Heather saw an ad in the local paper about a 10-week men’s health program beginning in his neighbourhood – Sons of The West.

It was part of a three-year program, since extended and continuing, which aimed to get men together, provide them with a guest speaker on a relevant topic and then get them to exercise together. David joined and rediscovered his motivation through connection with other men going through similar health challenges.

It’s been fantastic for me. I still carry a bit too much weight, but I try to exercise regularly, about 120 minutes a week. I have stopped fizzy drinks and I now love eating lots of vegetables and leafy salads. I am even going to a local gym once a week.

David took early retirement from full-time teaching a few years ago but now works part-time as a music teacher at a local school. “I love it; it’s very hands-on with ukuleles, keyboards, singing, drums and guitars.”  

He doesn’t dwell on his horror month all those years ago but realises his heart attack forced him to contemplate his mortality earlier than he might otherwise have had to.  “I think I was on a fast track to Diabetes 2, like my mother, father and older brother.” 

His sons are now 22 and 17 and David has turned into the sort of bloke who, when he goes to the football, parks far away just so he can get in some extra steps in his daily walk.  “Even at shopping centres now, I will always park a bit further away to get in some extra steps.” 

Discover more heart stories

 

You might also be interested in

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....

What is a heart attack?

What is a heart attack?

What is a heart attack?

The most common cause of a heart attack is coronary heart disease....

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....

Heart health information in your language

Heart health information in your language

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

Heart stories

Heart stories

Heart stories

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

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. ...

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. ...

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Got a question about your heart?...

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. ...

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’

Heart attack medication

Heart attack medication

Heart attack medication

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

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

Claude Lam, Open heart surgery survivor...

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. ...

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. ...

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. ...

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....

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation programs and resources to support your recovery....

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....

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....

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. ...

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. ...

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...

Gary's heart story

Gary's heart story

Gary's heart story

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

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. ...

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. ...

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....

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....

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....

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....

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....

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....

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

Living life on my terms as a young adult with heart disease

Living life on my terms as a young adult with heart disease

Living life on my terms as a young adult with heart disease

Lea was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect at 24. She shares her story of 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....

When The Heart Gets Heavy: Emotional Wellbeing and Heart Conditions

When The Heart Gets Heavy: Emotional Wellbeing and Heart Conditions

Emotional wellbeing is like having a garden, sometimes it grows green on its own, other times it needs watering, cutting back or fertilising....

Women's heart stories

Women's heart stories

Women's heart stories

Women's stories from around Australia...

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

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....

Help make heart disease history!

Help make heart disease history!

Help make heart disease history!

48 Australians die from heart disease every day. You can help save lives....

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

The fundraising race where you set the pace. Run, jog or walk MyMarathon at your own pace during October....

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. ...

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.  ...

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

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

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....

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) clinical resources

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) clinical resources

Resources and clinical information for health professionals...

Food and nutrition position statements

Food and nutrition position statements

Food and nutrition position statements

What is heart disease?

What is heart disease?

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is the broad term for conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart muscle. ...

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....

Heart attack medication

Heart attack medication

Heart attack medication

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

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Check out our recipe categories to find your next heart healthy meal....

What is FoodTrack?

What is FoodTrack?

What is FoodTrack?

FoodTrack supports the collection and monitoring of nutrition and product data for foods and beverages in Australian supermarkets. ...

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. ...

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Information and resources for health professionals....

Physical activity resources

Physical activity resources

Physical activity resources

Resources for health professionals interested in physical activity....

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....

Donate Monthly | Become a Regular Donor

Donate Monthly | Become a Regular Donor

Donate Monthly | Become a Regular Donor

Join the fight against heart disease....

Risk factors for women

Risk factors for women

Risk factors for women

In Australia, 90% of women have one risk factor for heart disease, and 50% have two or more. ...

Fruit, vegetables and heart health

Fruit, vegetables and heart health

Fruit, vegetables and heart health

How to boost your fruit and vegetable intake to help protect your heart. ...

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. ...

Improving food supply

Improving food supply

Improving food supply

The Heart Foundation supports initiatives that guide people to healthier food and drink choices. ...

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...

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....

Smoking and tobacco regulation

Smoking and tobacco regulation

There are still more than 15,000 deaths caused by smoking every year....

Matilda signs up for Jump Rope just one month after open-heart surgery

Matilda signs up for Jump Rope just one month after open-heart surgery

Matilda signs up for Jump Rope just one month after open-heart surgery

Media Release - 26 June 2020...

What is an arrhythmia?

What is an arrhythmia?

What is an arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia is a fault in the heart’s electrical system, which affects your heart’s pumping rhythm....

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

Heart valve disease means that your heart valve or valves don't open or close properly....