“I think the big thing, like being told any news of this type, is the sheer disbelief"

Congratulations on a fantastic site, thank-you!!
I live in Northern Ireland and underwent open heart surgery (triple bypass) in Sept 2012 at aged 46. The following is a recent extract which goes some way to telling my story. I managed to complete the cycle challenge back in July and a subsequent Heart CT scan two weeks later revealed that two of my bypass grafts had been completely blocked during it, but ignorance is bliss as they say. I had my original left main stem 90% blockage stented two weeks ago. Next year I hope to do a longer cycle for charity.
Stephen McKeown

One Man and his Bike
CYCLING enthusiast, Stephen McKeown, is preparing to saddle up for an epic charity ride that will see him pedal 550 miles around the province in July. Stephen, who works in Tesco Extra at Bridgewater Park, Banbridge will be raising money for a cause that is extremely close to his heart - quite literally - the Children’s Heartbeat Trust.
The Northern Ireland-based charity provides emotional and practical support to families with children and young people born with heart disease. Stephen underwent a triple bypass in 2012 and, while it has left him with certain physical limitations, he is determined to complete the cycling challenge to help others affected by cardiovascular conditions.

“Having heart disease, and coming out the other side of heart surgery, I can fully appreciate the impact it has on the patient and their family, but to have a child in this situation must be an absolute nightmare,” Stephen said.

“My Tesco colleague Aron McKee’s young daughter, Grace, was born with a serious heart condition and the charity have been a big help not only to Aron and his family, but also to other families who are in a similar situation.” It was back in the winter of 2011/12 that Stephen started to experience chest pain while he was in training for a charity cycle. There were none of the classic symptoms like crushing pain or shortness of breath, just a sore point in the same place on his chest.

“I was certain it was a chest muscle playing up and just cycled through it which, with the benefit of hindsight, wasn’t one of my better moves,” Stephen recalled.

“But, after becoming aware that my heart was ‘missing’ beats, I decided to get things checked in the spring of 2012.

“A few tests were carried out and all seemed ok, but alarm bells were still ringing and a treadmill stress test was booked for the beginning of September in Lagan Valley Hospital, Lisburn.

“I was plodding away on the treadmill and very soon the same pattern arose, pain in one part of my chest which, as usual, wasn’t bad enough to make me stop.

“I was asked to rest while the findings were shown to my cardiologist and, to cut a long story short, I found myself admitted to the Coronary Care Unit there and then.”

A week later Stephen was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for a cardiac catheterisation (angiogram) to see precisely what the extent of the problem was. It transpired that his left main artery stem had a critical distal lesion (90% narrowed) along with a severe distal left artery-descending lesion.

“By all accounts, two rather important pieces of plumbing!” Stephen quipped.

“I remember lying in the recovery room waiting to go back to the LVH and, to pararaphrase Oliver Hardy, thinking to myself ‘well this is another fine mess you’ve got yourself into!’

“I was given a couple of treatment options and I immediately asked the consultant specialist what my best plan of attack was. Without hesitation, he recommended heart bypass surgery. The guys in the Royal never pulled any punches when telling me the score and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. One likened me to a ticking time bomb, so I really was in no doubt as to the seriousness of the situation.”

Just over two weeks later, Stephen returned to the Royal where he underwent a triple heart bypass. The intricate procedure went according to plan, apart from a collapsed lung in the Intensive Care Unit, which was quickly dealt with, and some fluid on the left lung for a few months afterwards. Although Stephen could barely walk 50 yards in the beginning, he set himself a goal to be back on his bike within a few months.

“The pain management and care I received in both hospitals was second to none and I’ll always be grateful to everyone who looked after me so well, as well as the love and support of my family.” Stephen added.

Stephen offers hope to others facing heart surgery
It's almost three years since Stephen underwent major heart bypass surgery, and he has had time to reflect and put things into perspective. He said: “I don’t take life for granted, or too seriously, and silly things that used to seem important, well, I no longer even give them any thought.

“I think the big thing, like being told any news of this type, is the sheer disbelief.

“I literally went from cycling 100-200 miles a week over the course of the past 35 years, to being told I had a very serious cardiac problem.

“My diet had always been decent enough and I don’t smoke or even drink; I’m told it was a case of simple genetics.

“I’m not going to pretend the whole experience has been a picnic, it hasn’t.

“Post-operative chest wall pain and left leg problems still persist daily to this day, and I often get incredibly fatigued, but it is what it is and I’m ok with this.

“I can’t stress it highly enough - this really is life-saving surgery and, but for it, I wouldn’t be here today.”
In October 2014, Stephen started working in the new Tesco Extra store in Banbridge, the first employer to take a chance on him since his surgery.

“My Tesco colleagues have been absolutely brilliant and I really can’t praise highly enough my Line Manager Natasha, who has helped and supported me and been in my corner from the second we met.

“And Tess, Sharon, Sonya and also ‘Auntie’ Brenda and the ladies in the customer service team, as well as the lads in the warehouse, look out for me more than I do myself.

“I still continue to cycle almost daily and eat as sensibly as I can. Many people think that heart bypass surgery is a cure - it isn’t.

“The underlying heart disease is still present and it’s important to make the necessary lifestyle changes to look after your heart and the coronary arteries.”

Determined to give something back, Stephen has set himself an epic cycle for charity, which he will undertake in July. His challenge is to cycle around Northern Ireland, with a day in Donegal, on his trusty Raleigh - somewhere in the region of 550 miles - over six days on the bike. Taking on board medical advice, the option of a rest day has also been pencilled in. Stephen’s cousin David Bruce has kindly taken time off work and agreed to drive a support vehicle, while his wife Pamela and daughter Amy will also accompany him. The keen cyclist added: “Tesco Extra at Bridgewater Park are generously helping me with fundraising and supporting me in other ways, and I’d particularly like to say a big thanks to Customer Service Manager Natasha Blundell, Community Champion David McKay, Customer Experience Manager Robert Mullen, store manager Stephen Magill and Personnel Manager Tess Osborne.

“Mr Jim Brown, the principal at my daughter’s school (Fairhill Primary, Kinallen) has also very kindly agreed to donate the proceeds from the end of term non-uniform day to the cycle fundraising.

“I’m also very grateful to Morgan Fox, Director of Planet X Ireland, who has offered to support me with equipment including tyres and tubes, as well as promoting the cycle on their social media outlets, and to Seamus Downey (Downey Cycles, Dromore).
“I have received good luck messages from folks as far away as the USA, people really have been so kind.

“In addition to this, I have been contacted by people, many with their own health issues, who are taking lot of inspiration and hope from this bike ride, and for me this has been extremely rewarding.

“So, in addition to raising money for this wonderful charity, hopefully, if I complete this cycle challenge, it will offer some hope to others who have also had, or are facing, heart surgery, and that it will give them encouragement to live their lives as fully as possible afterwards.”


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