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Finding support and connection after a heart attack: Nicola Surbevski’s heart story

For Nicola, having a heart attack at the age of 38 was unimaginable. But what was more difficult were the emotional impacts that followed.

“It’s the worry and fear and feeling so overwhelmed. It didn’t really sink in,” she says. 

“I assumed I had no risks, I was leading a healthy lifestyle – eat a healthy diet, I love keeping fit, my two young boys keep me active! I don’t smoke.  I was left asking myself why me?”

But, Nicola had been experiencing symptoms of a heart attack (find out more about the warning signs and what you should do if you are experiencing them here). She had been feeling tired often, which she put down to being a busy mum. But then she also started feeling unwell: experiencing dizziness, nausea and what she thought was a very bad case of heartburn.

“My symptoms continued to build I was sweaty, had intense pain in my arm and jaw, and it felt hard to breathe. I knew something wasn’t right’.”

Nicola was rushed to hospital where an angiogram revealed an 80 per cent blockage in her right coronary artery. It was a massive heart attack – and it was the last thing Nicola was expecting.

What just happened?

Nicola is thankful everyday she survived.  But emotionally, she was struggling. After she left hospital, the cardiac blues – feelings of anxiety and depression that that are common following a heart event – hit her hard. She found herself constantly worrying about her health, the future and the thought of leaving her two kids behind.

She booked into cardiac rehab, kickstarting her journey back to better physical health. But when she started looking for emotional support, all she found were resources for older people.

“Everyone has the notion that older people have heart attacks.  I was trying to understand how I got here,” she says.

Also, during her hospital stay, Nicola had been given the Heart Foundation’s My Heart, My Life recovery resource. Later, she’d spoken to a cardiac nurse on the Heart Foundation Helpline who had given her supportive, practical and manageable advice. 

After finding the resources provided useful, she turned to the Heart Foundation again for help. This is where she discovered the Supporting Young Hearts program, which provides support and advice for 18–45-year-olds who have a heart condition or have had a heart event.

It was a turning point in her recovery.

A much-needed community

Nicola started attending Supporting Young Hearts events, meeting other young people who had experienced heart events and were facing the same physical and emotional challenges as she was. She built rapid connections with her peers, buoyed by the easy rapport and the chance to share her story.

As well as giving young people space to build a community, Supporting Young Hearts events often include presentations by cardiologists, psychologists and other medical practitioners to help participants with their recovery. There is also an online support group to keep members connected, a podcast series and resources focused on story sharing and the needs of younger people living with heart conditions.

For Nicola, having access to this sort of peer support was exactly what she needed. After the turmoil of the last few months, she no longer felt alone.

“My family was incredible and gave me so much support, but I needed to meet people who understood what I was going through.”

Embracing the future

Today, Nicola is determined to help support others and raise awareness, to try & move forward with less fear and more hope – and Supporting Young Hearts is helping her do it.

“I learnt that heart events can happen to anyone.   Life is precious and a blessing.   I’m here to live life to the fullest and watch my boys grow up” she says.  

Nicola’s advice

“When you’re recovering from a heart event, you feel so isolated. You don’t want your family to worry, so you hold it all in. You need to release it.” Reach out to us at Supporting Young Hearts for support & to connect with people who have a heart condition.  When you’re ready to, share your story. It’s such an inspiring and uplifting group.


Nicola shares her tips and advice on the Supporting Young Hearts: Heart to heart series podcast and is a member of the Supporting Young Hearts online support group. Visit us here to find out more.


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