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Morriston Hospital cardiac patient's pulsating read

Cardiac book

Alan Owen knows a thing or two about surviving a cardiac arrest – so much so, in fact, he’s written a book on it.

The 53-year-old (pictured above) from Carmarthen only discovered he had been living with a degenerative heart condition when he went into cardiac arrest following a game of walking football two years ago.

Fortunately help was at hand, as he was in a leisure centre at the time, and a defibrillator wasn’t far away. 

Following surgery - to fit two stents and an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) in case it happened again - he was diagnosed as having a genetic heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCN).

The IT expert’s life was turned upside down but he has since learned to adjust thanks in no small part to Morriston Hospital’s cardiomyopathy support group.

In an effort to help others (and their families) going through something similar he decided to publish his journey in a book - 1 in 10 Survivor: Cardiac Arrest.

Alan, who launched the book in Morriston Hospital’s cardiac centre, was playing in a walking football tournament, for Carmarthen Town, in Caldicot leisure centre when he was suddenly taken ill.

He said: “I played the first game and was stood talking to a colleague when I had my cardiac arrest.

“Luckily the person next to me was an ex police officer who gave me CPR. The leisure centre also had a defibrillator and three of the staff came running over with their emergency bag. I had three shocks to bring me back.

“I was still not very well so the Wales Air Ambulance was sent out to me.

“I needed to be put on a ventilator, which required a doctor to administer anaesthetic, so they sent another air ambulance out.

“I was then sent to the Heath Hospital, in Cardiff, where I had two stents fitted and a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy. I had to have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) fitted as well so if it ever happened again it would be able to shock me.”

After being discharged Alan’s follow up support was based in Morriston Hospital, where he joined the support group.

He said: “The cardiomyopathy was something that came out of the blue. 

“I was undiagnosed, didn’t have any symptoms at all before my cardiac arrest, but then I got diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, which is the thickening of the heart’s wall. My hearts not working as well as it should do, and it’s slowly getting worse.

“But now I’m in a much better position because I’ve got medication and I’ve got this ICD to protect me in case it happens again. 

“We’ve had to have my son tested for it as well, as it’s a genetic condition, but he’s showing no signs at the moment.”

The book contains a wealth of information for anyone who has experienced a medical trauma and the long road to recovery. 

Its title comes from The British Heart Foundation’s assertion that only one in 10 people survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.

He said: “I wrote the book in the first year to help other people. There was so much information that we needed to pick up in the year from the patient’s side – like driving, medication. I wasn’t on any medication before but now I’m taking all these meds.

“It was really to give a perspective from a patient’s side and to help other people who are starting on their journey – who don’t know about having an ICD fitted and don’t know that you can’t drive for six months if you have a cardiac arrest. Not being able to get insurance and everything else we went through, I thought I’d write down.”

The support group also features in the book.

Alan said: “The support group was so good I wanted to highlight the fact there are all these people who can help you. 

“Living in Carmarthen it’s the closest group and the clinic helped me with the genetic testing as well. They have helped us a lot.”

Alan has written two previous books – a business guide and one about nuclear test veterans, because his father was one - but this is the first that is a personal story.

It’s available on Amazon, as an e-book or paper back.

He said: “We have some great feedback. The cardiologist who treated me in Cardiff – he bought some copies to give to some of his patients.

“I gave a presentation on my story to the support group – that’s where the book came up and now I’m giving it out to patients here in Morriston as well.

“It’s been well received by the community – the people who have actually been affect by heart disease. And it’s not just the patients, it’s also their loved ones as well.”

Consultant cardiologist Dr Carey Edwards welcomed the new publication.

He said: “I think it’s a brilliant idea. To understand the patient’s experience of what it’s like going through diagnosis and living with cardiomyopathy, from the patient’s perspective, is incredibly useful and interesting thing to see.”

Louise Norgrove Lead Inherited Cardiac Conditions Nurse Specialist at Morriston Hospital, said: “The book takes you through his entire journey from his cardiac arrest, diagnosis and learning to live with the condition.

“I found the book inspirational. In a clinic setting healthcare professionals often focus on symptoms, medications, genetic testing etc.  

“This book gives you a holistic insight of the patient’s experience. It highlights how a cardiac arrest and a diagnosis of HCM can affect your whole life, not just yours but your whole family’s.”

“Alan's kind donation to the service will be hugely beneficial to other patients who have suffered a similar life changing event. Often patients at the beginning of their journey struggle to process what has happened and their diagnosis. I am sure the book will be a great support to many patients. 

Support group member, June Phillips, said: “I’ve read Alan’s book and I think it’s excellent. It offers another side to the condition. 

“It was petty drastic the way he was diagnosed. It’s not like that for everybody, but it will be like that for some. It’s great to have somebody who have been through it.”

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