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Heart attack

How it affects family life

Here, people talk about how their heart attack affected their family life.

Though many felt that their heart attack did not change relations within the family, some felt less confident about their health and that led to some changes in roles.

Some younger people did not feel physically up to the demands of parenting, but this problem was not necessarily permanent. One man who had heart failure after a heart attack didn't have the energy to play with his young children as much as he wanted to. Some people had to cut down on their work after their illness and this meant a reduction in income.

 

He doesn't have the energy to play with his young children as much as he wants to.

He doesn't have the energy to play with his young children as much as he wants to.

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 37
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If I do play with them they are energetic and I love playing and I like doing stuff with like from an early age, you roll round and pick them up and swing them and do that sort of stuff with them, which not all parents do that, but that's something I'd do. I think it gives them like a bit of strength and rough and tumble but different parents differ, I don't make any judgements on any other parents, that's how I do it, but physically that has a, an impact on me.  

It's one thing sitting down and read a book, okay, you can do that for a while, but having said that, you can't really do it if you're really tired either, trying to concentrate it's not easy. But physically if you lift them up and doing that, I get out of breath quite quickly, now they're just getting hyper and hyper and hyper, they want to do it more and more and more but I have to say, 'No'.  

Now they tend to understand that, 'Ok, Daddy's tired now, have a rest, Daddy's tired' and [my son] will say like you he'll go out like, say going to grandma's, 'Are you tired', 'Yeah' and they'll kiss me leg and walk out in to the other room.  

Now okay he understands that I'm tired, so that's what I'm trying to get that there is a reason, it's not just no Daddy just doesn't want to do, I want them to understand that there's a reason, because I don't want them thinking I'm doing it I'm, pulling away from them because I don't like them, there's a choice thing there so that's what I'm trying to do but it, you know, it's not easy when you, it doesn't help me when I hear them saying things like, 'Oh you, you can't do or you can't read' and my wife then ends up having to read with them or play with them, because I'm just so tired, I'm just laid, laid out there.  

Because it often coincides when they come home. I go and pick them up about half four and come home. Now as I say, that's starting to get to be the time when I get worse, it can be anywhere between half three, four and say seven, well that's the time when they're home, when they're crammed and tired, they've been at nursery all day. 

So the combination actually isn't a very good combination, weekends are slightly different because you've got the whole day, you know, but of an evening it sometimes it's okay other times it isn't. I, all I need to do sometimes I just want to lie down and rest and they want to play. What do you tell them?

 

Having to reduce her hours at work meant less money to spend on family activities.

Having to reduce her hours at work meant less money to spend on family activities.

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 36
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And because I only work part-time I obviously don't get as much money as what I used to so the financial side of things is totally, totally different now. So, obviously, I had to cut back and watch what I spend and that now, whereas before my heart attack I was just like working and just getting on and so all of a sudden working part-time, half the hours, I get half the money and stuff so things have, things have changed like that way. 

So even though I'm not like a money-orientated person but you're used to that much money to live on and then all of a sudden when that's cut in half, you know, your bills don't all of a sudden go in half, do they? So, I've had to like re-budget things and that.  

And like my daughter's had to like, she's got like a little Saturday job so she buys some of her own clothes and bits and pieces like that to take the pressure of me, which, she's been as good as gold in that sense and that. But, I just want to go back to work, go back to work full-time, and then just save up and have a holiday.  

One young woman was told that after her heart attack another pregnancy would be unwise. After one termination, when she accidentally became pregnant again she decided to go ahead with the pregnancy, monitored by her cardiologist. She had a healthy son. Her only real problem was a lurking fear that she could have another heart attack and no longer be there for her children.

 

Describes being pregnant again three years after her heart attack.

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Describes being pregnant again three years after her heart attack.

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 37
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And what was your pregnancy like?

But as I got bigger I went to see my heart doctor, and he was brilliant, he said he'd be there for me. I didn't have any pains when I was pregnant, at all. I used to get frightened whether my heart could take the weight, and obviously. I couldn't do bike riding. I wanted to bike ride, but my husband said, "No, you're pregnant". 

We still did a lot of walking and swimming. I used to get frightened whether my heart could take the weight. They didn't know whether I'd be able to give birth because the strain on my heart - but if you can do it with four parts of your heart, you can do it with three parts of your heart. Well I did it anyway. I didn't get any blood clots. 

I carried on with all my tablets, I had to have an amnio because of my age and the amount, and the tablets I take, to make sure there wasn't something wrong with our son, but luckily there wasn't. And then in May we had a lovely little baby boy.

 

She has a lurking fear that she could have another heart attack and no longer be there for her...

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She has a lurking fear that she could have another heart attack and no longer be there for her...

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 37
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We got a new bike the other day and we got a baby seat to put on the back of the bike, so we're off, healthy, bike-riding with the baby now. We bought one of those, when we went to buy our pushchair, we bought a three-wheeled buggy. They say they're faster, you can power walk with these really fast, instead of the - all the buggies we had for the girls.

Looking after your new baby, did you find that any harder than your daughter? Was it any different because of your heart?

No, I wouldn't say it was any different. There's worry there all the time, but afterwards, but then there's worry there all the time. Sleepless night's were hard, again, but ... he's older now. He's ten months old now, so... I just want to be here for him now. If I get an ache now I think, "Oh no, no, not now." 

I had to be there for my daughter when she was little and now I have to be there, I have to be here now. I just exercise, don't smoke, keep going for my check ups, take my pills.

One 42-year-old man had been about to travel with his wife to China to adopt a baby when he had his heart attack. Although they put it off at the time, three years later they did go there and successfully adopted a baby girl.

 

He was able to adopt his daughter from China three years after his heart attack.

He was able to adopt his daughter from China three years after his heart attack.

Age at interview: 46
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 42
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But we'd had a trip to China planned and paid for in, well we paid for the flights in April and that was just too much for me, we cancelled it. My doctor and consultant both said that there was no reason why we shouldn't go. It was a seven day trip but it was just too far away in too short a time so it was disappointing. But it was just, that was just one thing, it was sort of a hurdle too soon I think.   

We've adopted a little girl, which I'm not sure but it does make it a lot more difficult if you have health issues before you get approved and my consultant was very helpful in writing to social services. We adopted our daughter from China so we did make the trip, that was one of the reasons why we were going originally. 

[My wife] to this day I think, still thinks I engineered all this so I didn't have to get on a plane to go so far because I'm not, I'm not a great flier. But that was another big leap, even though it was sort of three years after the event once again that was, you know that really was going into the unknown and going to Beijing and then flying down into southern China. 

But I think by then I was more comfortable that there was and there's no reason to think that there is another heart attack on its way.

Older people also said that they were no longer up to playing with their grandchildren. One man said he was afraid to pick his grandchild up in case something should happen to him, which would make him fall. Another regretted that he could no longer play football or teach his youngest grandchild to ride a bike.

 

He was worried about picking his grandchildren up in case he fell.

He was worried about picking his grandchildren up in case he fell.

Age at interview: 77
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 70
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You see the thing is that the children, the grandchildren are used to coming sitting on my lap and things like that and they were told not to. You know, granddaddy's not well. Granddad's an ill man type of thing. One day, my granddaughter she's only nine now. She was only about two or three at the time. 

She came up to me, 'You're not ill, Granddad' she said. 'You're not ill, Granddad's fine'. And I suppose, I'm afraid to lift them. Personally, I'm afraid, you know, you just keep thinking ' oh God am I right to do this, am I wrong, you know'. If I fall or anything like that with a child in my arms sort of thing, you know. Those are the things that's worried me.

 

He can't teach his grandson to ride a bike or play football with him after his heart attack and...

He can't teach his grandson to ride a bike or play football with him after his heart attack and...

Age at interview: 77
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 69
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It came to mind the other day that I taught my wife to cycle, I taught both our children to cycle. I taught all our grandchildren to cycle except the youngest one whose now, he's a latecomer, he's now eight and he still can't cycle. 

And I can't, you know I can't sort of run round with him with a bike bending double to hold his saddle. So that's a regret, I can't do that. But, and I can't play football with him.

Most people could still travel to visit family members living abroad (see 'Leisure, travel and hobbies after a heart attack'). One man's heart attack had not affected his ability to travel to Australia to visit his wife's relatives.

Some people talked about their parents' reactions. Many said that their parents were shocked and worried. One man, whose mother had herself had a heart attack the year before him, said that she was very shocked and it had made them even closer because they were able to compare experiences. In contrast, one 37- year-old woman's parents found it difficult to understand what she was going through.

Others were surprised by their parents reactions. One woman who had a heart attack when she was 37, was astonished that her parents went back to work the day after it happened, while she was still in hospital. A man in his forties, said that his father wasn't as worried as he thought he would be, which he expects was because he had already had a heart attack himself, and knew that people recover from it.

 

She was surprised at how her parents reacted when she had a heart attack at the age of 37.

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She was surprised at how her parents reacted when she had a heart attack at the age of 37.

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 37
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How did your parents react?

They were really strange, really. They weren't like I thought they would be. Their daughter's had a heart attack. When I was in a lot of pain that night, and my mum was here; my husband called my mum down, and said "I've got to take [my wife] to the doctor's, so can you come down and have [my daughter], the little one?" 

And when she come down she said - I said, "I've got a lot of pains in my chest, mum," she said, "Probably your bra strap's too tight." [laughs] 

And my dad actually came up the hospital with us, that night. He drove and my husband sat in the back of the car with me, and I kept saying, "Dad I don't feel very well", and he - and then when they brought him in, and they'd said that I was having a heart attack - this was on a Friday and of course I was bad on the Saturday and Sunday. 

But when I thought everybody would come up Monday, you know, running round, everybody went - my mum and dad went to work, which I thought was really strange. I suppose different people deal with - I can't imagine me going to work.

Did you ever ask them why?

No, no. I think they were shocked, their daughter's had a heart attack, and she's thirty seven.

Older children of people who had, had heart attacks tended to rally round and gave emotional or practical support. One man's sons had encouraged him replace his non-electric lawn mower with an electric one and how they had bought him a special trolley to handle heavy sacks. Another talked about how the contrasting reactions of his sons had helped him during his recovery.

 

The different reactions of his two sons helped him during his recovery.

The different reactions of his two sons helped him during his recovery.

Age at interview: 51
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 51
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My family too, they've looked after me. Two sons and one says 'Oh don't fuss Mum, Dad can do it.' And the other one is more quiet and considerate and caring and he'll look after me, which is lovely. It's good to have that balance really. You don't want to be put in cotton wool but it's nice. 

They, they always think of me, 'Are you sure you can go up these steps, do you want to sit down or you know or just take a short walk or something like that'. And that's lovely, that's lovely. On the other hand, the other son he says, 'oh come on we're going on, Dad will be alright, I'll look after him.' And I don't want to feel an invalid. I want to be able to do all the things I did before, which I can more or less, which I can, yeah. 

Children don't expect their parents to be ill and although most people said that their adult children had recovered fairly soon after the initial shock of their heart attack, a few recalled that their heart attack had been very upsetting for their children. One man's 18- year-old son had found it very hard to accept and obviously continued to worry about him, while his daughter appeared to have taken it in her stride. One 52-year-old woman described the way her son reacted to her illness.

 

 

Describes her grown up son's reaction to her heart attack.

Describes her grown up son's reaction to her heart attack.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 53
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My son was I would say he was really shocked. My daughter was more, well it's happened let's get on with it. But my son didn't really know how to treat me I think. I think children are often like that; they don't want their parents to be ill, certainly a life threatening illness. 

So he didn't know what to do really. His mum was really poorly and he just didn't know what to do because that's not supposed to happen to your mum. But he's alright now, he's okay about it now. They just treat me as if I'm normal, nothing's happened.

And how did that change did you think from him not knowing what to say and do to being normal again?

Well we work together, so eventually I went back to work, for a couple of hours a day sort of thing, and as I got stronger, he got better with me and as I started doing more normal things, he became more normal with me.

 And what were the sort of things he was doing that weren't normal?

It was just his attitude; he was perhaps a bit, a bit harsher with me. A bit, 'Come on, Mum, you know you can do that.' And I would say, 'No I can't actually, I don't feel well enough.' 'Aah, oh alright then.' It was, he wanted me to get better. 'You're not ill, I don't want you to be ill, sort of thing. I want you to be normal.'  

Last reviewed June 2017.

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