Belfast Telegraph

I felt a twinge or two when I was out on the bike... then I was told I had big problems

By Staff Reporter

Cycling enthusiast Stephen McKeown (49), from Dromore, was described as a "ticking time bomb" by doctors and said his love of cycling helped to save his life.

After feeling a twinge in his chest for a number of months, he "cycled through the discomfort" only to discover he had angina and needed a life-saving heart bypass.

He had a second major procedure in August after his arteries became seriously blocked again, and had a stent put in his heart - just weeks after cycling 500 miles for charity.

Having gone through it twice, the father-of-one says it is vital to have cardiac rehabilitation to ensure you get the best possible chance to recover:

I had a twinge or two on the bike early in 2012 - in the middle of my chest," he said. "I thought it was nothing to worry about, but I got it checked about six months later that year. I went to my GP and he referred me to a Lagan Valley cardiologist. I had an appointment on the treadmill that September and the pain came on in the first couple of minutes, and the woman told me to get off. I was put straight in the coronary care unit. It was a shock as I've been cycling for 35 years. I was out when I was younger doing 70-80 miles a day.

The scary thing was, they told me the bike had saved my life because I cycled on through it - there wasn't enough pain to stop. So because it was angina it wore off after a few miles. If I hadn't been cycling I would have had no inkling there was anything wrong with me. I never felt the pain unless I was cycling. I then felt my heart skip a few beats, and I was told my granda had angina in his 60s and died from it. Then my dad had one stent in about 15 years ago.

I spent three weeks in cardiology and was told I had big problems. I had an angiogram and they saw how blocked my arteries were - almost 90% - and couldn't believe how much cycling I was doing and that somehow the blood was getting round my heart. One told me I was a ticking time bomb waiting to happen. They told me I needed the bypass. I was just positive and said: "Right, let's do this."By the end of September I had the bypass and the recovery was a bit difficult, but by the start of 2013 I was walking and back on the bike.

I went on to complete a 500-mile cycle around Northern Ireland this summer to raise money for the Children's Heartbeat Trust.

But then I had been feeling tired and I just thought it was the medication after the bypass. I happened to say to the chest pain clinic in June and told them I was going round Northern Ireland for the charity. I passed the treadmill again and they said to go ahead. I came back after the 500 miles and they had a CT scan booked for me when I got back at Downe Hospital for my heart. I got a call to say they wanted to see me. The bypasses were blocked and I was put on a waiting list.

In the middle of August I felt a tight band round my chest and I went on to have a stent in Craigavon.

I've had two courses of rehab.The Royal in Belfast was once a week and at Craigavon twice a week. You had a two-hour session with a physio and a cardiac nurse, and exercises - there would be aerobic-based circuits. Once that session was over, they had maybe a person come in and talk about medication or your diet and your personal wellbeing. It was fantastic and a good chance to say if you had side-effects from medication. It helped me find my target heart rate for exercising. They were able to tell me "don't push yourself past this", and how to deal with fatigue.

I can understand people might have anxiety after heart problems, but I would encourage people to go (to the doctor). They can give you confidence back. It is all different age groups, shapes and sizes. I'm now back cycling again and my hopes are in 2016 to cycle 1,000 miles for charity either around the UK or Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph


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