AN AMBULANCE was called for a quick transfer to heart specialists in Melbourne and Barry Nixon looked at Ballarat doctors, wondering who might be having a heart attack nearby.
Doctors said it was him.
Mr Nixon had presented with a racing heart and fluid building on his lungs. He thought he had asthma and had been apologising for the inconvenience.
Cardiac illness has been part of Mr Nixon's life for 12 years. That moment changed his life physically, emotionally and mentally.
Mr Nixon said no-one else has lived cardiac experience to his but there was a empathetic bond between people who had experienced a cardiac incident.
Julie Jules had been feeling tired for a while but thought it was linked in with her fibromyalgia, age and asthma.
Ms Jules was walking down a hill while on holidays in Portland when she felt, but dismissed, symptoms of a heart attack. She made it back up the hill to her phone, went home feeling all right then made an appointment with her doctor.
While Ms Jules passed initial medical testing, it was the near-instant fail in the stress test that sent her straight by ambulance to Geelong for open-heart surgery and a triple bypass.
Together, Mr Nixon and Ms Jules meet each week for Heartbeat Ballarat's Walking Group, setting out from Ballarat Yacht Club and taking in a lap of the lake.
Members have varying health conditions and for some the pace might be too slow, but Mr Nixon said the supported walk was about helping each other in talking and walking.
"We're all on our own growth journey," Mr Nixon said. "Sometimes with a cardiac condition you can go to bed well and wake up feeling terrible.
"I had a double bypass and two weeks later when I took a shower, I was exhausted. Other people can have surgery and feel almost normal within a couple of days. We're all different."
Mr Nixon said he felt lost trying to navigate the medical system early on but it was through Ballarat Community Health and a holistic program he learned about Heartbeat peer support.
He credits BCH with completely turning his life about.
Before his heart attack, Mr Nixon had what he called a leisurely, sedentary lifestyle, travelling in his car to meet clients and sitting on his backside to entertain them.
He also discovered a strong family history in heart disease.
"Education is really important and these days information is thriving compared to 2006," Mr Nixon said. "Knowledge is really empowering."
Ms Jules said education after any heart incident was vital as well.
She took up the cardiac rehabilitation program at Ballarat Health Services Queen Elizabeth Centre to gradually piece her life back together, knowing she was not the same person as before.
Then she discovered Heartbeat Ballarat, which also has monthly meetings and guest speakers.
"To do rehab or to join Heartbeat, you join people who are in the same position as you," Ms Jules said. "You can see others and think, if that's where he's at then I can get there. The group also give you a voice - you know there are people who understand and care."
PRIMARY FOCUS: calculating the beat approach
HEART Foundation's new serial killer prevention campaign wants you to answer a few easy questions that could save your life. The heart age calculator tells you your heart age compared to your actual age.
This is a move praised by Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute cardiologist Prasanna Venkataraman, who said effective primary prevention and ways to spark talk could help more people from getting to a point when they needed to see him.
"If you've got the same risk as someone 20 years older than you, or have risks like diabetes or cholesterol, than this might help make necessary appointments and checks," he said.
The online calculator is designed for those aged 35-75 who do not have a known history of heart issues. It aims to help people understand their risks and offers advice on what to do next.
More than 30,000 Australians under the age of 55 have had a heart attack that has affected their lives for at least six months, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics. Calculate at heartfoundation.org.au.
SECONDARY FOCUS: no second chances
LEADING Australian heart researchers are make a stark warning - no second chances - in their call for more to be done to combat heart disease.
A new report from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute shows those at greatest risk of a cardiovascular event are those who have already had a heart attack or stroke and not enough was being done in Australia to prevent this.
Baker cardiologist Prasanna Venkataraman told The Courier program in the region, like peer-support group Heartbeat Ballarat and cardiac rehabilitation, were important in second-chance prevention.
The report recommends factors like accessibility, particularly for cardiac rehabilitation, could be greatly improved to reach more people.
"Everyone is different. Some people who have a great result after their heart incident are harder to convince than others about secondary prevention. Some people are shaken up the first time and you need to make them really aware at this point," Dr Venkataraman said.
Ultimately the game isn't over, even when you've had a really good result.
About 4.2 million Australians live with a cardiovascular condition and of those, 1.2 million have diagnosed heart disease and are five to seven times more likely to experience a heart incident.
Ballarat's heart condition was targeted in a Heart Foundation awareness campaign three years ago for having the state's worst cardiovascular disease. Heart Foundation data recording has changed but the region still weighs in among the heaviest in the state, with obesity and overweight key risks for heart disease.
Dr Venkataraman said Australia did a good job in treatment and surgery for cardiovascular patients but a lot more could be done on what was a complex issue.
He said every time the heart muscle was damaged, even if only in a minor way, it created scarring. Early treatment and prevention of recurring blockages in other areas of the body, was best.
Policy-wise, Dr Venkataraman said tackling cardiovascular disease should be treated like any other chronic condition and needed greater investment.
No Second Chances report recommends: greater education on secondary prevention; improved funding to cardiac rehabilitation; strategies for more targeted medication options; and, disease management programs using technology like mobile apps.
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