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Heart Health

Updated 04 December 2017

This is what helped this father of two survive heart failure

With a second chance at life, Stanley Henkeman celebrates 10 years since his heart transplant.

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Stanley Henkeman was a fit 42-year-old. He exercised regularly and ate a balanced diet, but on the morning of 6 January 2001 things took a turn for the worse for this father of two.

As he was hiking in the Swellendam mountains he suffered a severe heart attack that led to heart failure.   

'I didn't go for checkups'

“My heart failure resulted from a massive heart attack,” explains Stanley. The one led to the other.” 

The only symptoms Stanley can remember experiencing was profuse sweating and fatigue during his practice hike a week before. But he paid no attention to it.

He showed no signs or symptoms of heart failure as his active lifestyle and level of fitness had bought him time.

“In my case, there was a history of heart failure on my father’s side, yet I didn’t go for checkups. Once the episode happens, you can't turn back.”

Stanley stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and getting annual checkups as you get older. 

Difference between heart attack and heart failure

Heart attack usually occurs when the flow of oxygenated blood to a section of the heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked.

Symptoms: 

  • Pain/discomfort in the centre or left side of the chest
  • Nausea
  • breaking out in cold sweat
  • Light-headedness

Heart Failure is when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs.

Symptoms:

  • Swelling in the feet, legs, abdomen and veins in the neck

Shared symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath/ trouble breathing
  • Fatigue

"Being fit saved me. Lifestyle plays a big role. It can change your life,” he says. 

However, because of his genetic disposition, doctors confirm that it was a case of a heart attack waiting to happen.

Buying time

When Stanley learned about the severity of his heart attack, all he could think about was buying time – his biggest fear was not being able to see his teenage boys grow up.

 “Exercise after my heart attack made me weaker,” Stanley said. “Heart failure is what it was. My heart became progressively weaker.”

In 2006, he was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure.

At this point his heart was solely functioning on treatment that would only carry him for five more years.

“With medication you can just buy time. It's not going to reverse the situation," he continued.

Second chance at life

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In 2007, Stanley became a successful heart-transplant recipient. The transplant was done at the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital.

A small price to pay

“I remember waking up from surgery and realising that I could breathe freely without gasping for breath. It is the things that other people take for granted like breathing and having energy that those with heart failure struggle with,” he said.

Post-transplant, Stanley received World Transplant Game colours; he found himself walking in a green blazer, an event furthest from his imagination. 

“I can either live in the shadow of my heart attack/failure or I can live in the victory of my survival. Whatever you choose can determine the quality of your life.”

Stanley will have to be on medication for the rest of his life.

“It’s a small price I’m going to have to pay. The treatment is very strong and toxic, but it gave me 10-and-a-half years that I wouldn’t have had,” he said.

Image: Supplied