I was 43 years old and working as a truck driver when I developed cold and flu symptoms that just wouldn’t get any better. It got to a point where I’d climb into the truck and had to sit there for five minutes before I could even put my seatbelt on because I couldn't catch my breath.
One day, a bloke I was working with just looked at me and said I didn't look right, and I should go and see the doctor. I finished work early that day, my wife booked me an appointment, I jumped in my car and went to the doctor. The doctor just looked at me and he told me to go straight to the hospital.
After some tests, I was diagnosed with heart failure. The doctor said we were lucky we came in that night because if I’d had left it another day, I would have been in here on a stretcher. That's how bad it was. The left side of my heart wasn’t working properly and they told me later I also had two blood clots – one in my heart, another in my lung.
I had never even heard of heart failure. Before this, I didn't go to the doctor unless I was pretty much dying. Looking back a big warning sign was gaining weight really quickly; I was retaining a lot of fluid. I also couldn’t sleep laying on my back without struggling to breathe, I could only sleep sitting upright.
I spent a week in the hospital, and they were trying all sorts of meds. I was also bordering on type two diabetes. Some medications worked really well but came with a lot of other complications like gout. I was on and off certain medications because it would flare up the gout and then something else would go wrong so they’d have to change it.
I was in and out of hospital for about six months. It was probably the roughest six months of our lives. At one stage my wife came home from work and I was on the bed, pretty much paralysed. They figured out I had an infection in my spine, but they couldn't work out how it happened, they put it down to all the different medications. I spent a week and a half at the hospital not knowing if I was ever going to be able to walk again.
I couldn’t work and struggled with depression. Dealing with mental illness was really challenging. It took a big toll on myself, my wife, my kids and my family. I tried to take my life a few times. Managing the pain was hard and not being able to do anything, just staying home — it got to me. Fortunately, I had a lot of support from family it was absolutely amazing, and my wife helped me to see a psychiatrist.
I slowly began to turn it around. Being able to get up and do something during the day, cooking dinner for my wife. It helped take my mind off everything else. I’ve made a lot of lifestyle changes, especially with the food I eat. I used to be a heavy drinker, but I don't drink now. It’d be easy to come home, especially in summer, and have three or four beers because it’s what you do. I was told I needed to lose 30 kilos and ended up losing 40. I started exercising more. Even though my job is physical, I just needed a bit more in my day. I do a lot of cardio training to get my heart rate up.
My whole lifestyle has changed, dramatically, from what it used to be. In the best way, for myself and my family. I feel the best I've ever felt.
My advice to other men is to talk to someone. If you don't feel right, no matter how macho you think you are, just talk to someone. That’s the hardest thing for any man to do, is to admit they need help. It doesn't matter if it's a stranger or someone close, just say how you're feeling.
I didn’t know much about heart disease before this but when I spoke to my family who lives in New Zealand, my dad said that there was heart disease on his side of the family. He already lost a sister and two brothers to heart disease. About a month ago my dad was also diagnosed with heart failure and he got two stents put in.
I speak to my dad nearly every Sunday, just to check up on him and if he's got any questions to ask me. I’ve also shared my experience with people from work. It's actually opened the eyes of a lot of the middle-aged males at my work, a few Pacific Islander males too. They're always asking me questions about heart health. They could see what I've been through and what my family have been through, and they don't want that to go through that for their family or for themselves.
If you know something is wrong with yourself, then get it checked. It could be a small, minor thing or it could be something that you don't want to hear, but at least you got yourself checked out.
For more information about heart health and how you can understand and manage your risk of cardiovascular disease, visit heartfoundation.org.au. If you or anyone you know needs help you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 and Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.