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Learning that heart disease can strike at any age
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Learning that heart disease can strike at any age

Key takeaways

Anthony is a 30-year-old shift worker whose day took a dramatic turn after he started experiencing significant chest pains and an elevated heart rate. After undergoing surgery, he commonly heard people say “You’re too young…” and “Heart disease is an old person’s disease.”
3 min read

What a difference one year can make!

Suddenly at 30 years of age, with no build-up and no risk factors, my world slowly unravelled over the course of 24-30 hours. What happened during this time should have set off alarm bells.

As a shift worker, I had been in the gym seven nights in a row before the seventh night left me fatigued, with pain radiating down both arms and pins and needles in my little fingers.

‘You’re too young to be here’.

During work, I suffered two episodes of chest pain, each time my heart rate spiked. I had one more episode the next afternoon, however, I chose to go to bed instead of seeking medical treatment.

I not only ignored my colleagues’ advice, but I ignored my wife’s pleas to see a doctor. I eventually decided to get a ‘check-up’ from my local GP which soon turned into a trip to the hospital’s Emergency Department. After four days of testing, I was diagnosed with a 99% blockage of my left descending coronary artery. The position it was in meant a stent was not an option. Two weeks later I underwent double bypass surgery.

In hospital people constantly asked why I was there. The common phrases used were ‘You’re too young to be in here.’ and ‘Heart disease is an old person’s disease’.

I thought waiting for surgery was hard, but it was nothing in comparison to the following three-month recovery. On day five I was discharged from hospital. My wound felt fine. What I didn’t anticipate was the dramatic loss in my strength and fitness. I tried walking fifty metres down my street and then slept for three hours. My lungs were working at sixty per cent and that took weeks to improve.

I started rehab after two weeks. Here I was the youngest person by at least twenty to thirty years. I sat next to an older fella who couldn’t help but laugh at me; this young man struggling with the most basic movements.

In week six I experienced side effects of the painkillers, which in turn caused restless leg syndrome. I could sleep no more than two hours a night. Depression quickly set in and one morning I broke down in our local café. It was hard to accept that my life had changed so dramatically whilst everyone else’s continued as if nothing had happened.

‘Why me? I’m too young for this - after all ‘heart disease is for old people’.

Three months later my wife, Kate and I got the unexpected news that she was pregnant. Our boy was due around the anniversary of my surgery.

My biggest fear through Kate’s pregnancy was that I would be passing on a ‘dickey ticker’ to this little human. Thankfully, tests showed otherwise and, while the doctors still have no idea what caused my heart disease, they are confident it is not hereditary and nothing to do with lifestyle.

One year on, I am grateful that I have been one of the lucky ones who has been given a second chance. Since May last year, I have heard and read countless news stories of young people, from athletes to normal every day Australians, suffering fatal heart attacks while doing the things they love.

I’m so grateful that I still get to do the things I love; from playing sport to working for my community. I am forever thanking those amazing people who stood by my side and showed compassion and friendship when I needed it most. The most important thing is spending invaluable time with my amazing wife and three-month-old boy. Seeing him smile and grow makes the tough three months post-surgery worth it.

I could easily be a statistic and never experience the joys this little man brings.

‘Heart disease is an old person’s disease that kills young people’.

It does not discriminate, it does not care about age. You don’t die from embarrassment. If you are suffering from heart-related symptoms, please seek medical treatment. It just may save your life.  

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