03 April 2006

Alan tells of heart ordeal 'miracle'

Belfast Telegraph

**In this day and age, a person should NOT have to wait at all for life saving surgery

Rare six-in-one operation saved 55 year-old's life

By Nigel Gould
03 April 2006

That Ulster man Alan Wilkinson is alive today is nothing short of a miracle...

At the end of last year his life hung by a thread after doctors discovered one of his arteries completely blocked while there were 90% blockages in five others.

And at one stage the 55-year-old Fermanagh man was given a maximum of six months - without major surgery.

Put simply another heart attack would have killed him.

But thanks to an initial inspired piece of quick-thinking by his teenage son, the dramatic slashing of hospital waiting times and finally the skill of Ulster's finest surgeons who performed a rare six-in-one bypass operation, Mr Wilkinson made it through his incredible ordeal.

"Make no mistake, my life was in real danger," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I first had a heart attack in 1995. Then in November last year I had been working in the garden when I felt a pain and I lost power of my body.

"My son Richard, who is 16, was sitting beside me and began trying to keep me awake.

"It felt like my whole system was closing down. I thought I was dying."

Mr Wilkinson, from Lisbellaw, recalls how wife Gina phoned for a cardiac ambulance in Enniskillen but while they waited for it to come, paramedics talked her through a vital first aid procedure which was carried out by 16-year-old son Richard.

But there were complications after the ambulance arrived a short time later when a vein could not be found immediately for paramedics to administer a life-saving clot-bursting drug.

"Fortunately, they were able to find one soon after and within a few minutes I was back to normal - the clot-bursting drugs had saved my life," he said.

"But an ECG carried out in the ambulance showed that I had had another heart attack."

Despite desperately needing surgery, the earliest Mr Wilkinson could have surgery initially was the end of April. "This was then reduced to the middle of March," he added.

"But it was brought forward a third time and I had my operation on February 25.

"Yes there was fear about going through an operation but I had been told I had a maximum of six months without it.

"I'm a lover of life. If I didn't get the operation I was going to die."

Since the operation, Mr Wilkinson has been able to do basic household chores that would have been impossible several months ago.

"I feel great," he said. "I am now able to walk upstairs without stopping to catch my breath."

And he praised Health Minister Shaun Woodward for driving down cardiac waiting lists so patients like him could receive their surgery as quickly as possible.

In a statement, the Department of Health told the Belfast Telegraph: "Last July the Minister set a target that no-one should be waiting more than six months for life-saving cardiac surgery. Our priority is to treat patients as quickly as possible to allow them to resume a full and active life."

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