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‘I got it into my head I was going to die,’ says woman, 37, who had heart attack

·6-min read

A mother of one has described fearing she would die after suffering a heart attack aged 37 during the UK’s first coronavirus lockdown.

Lee Anne Porteous, from Glasgow, believed she was fit and healthy before she started feeling unwell while on a dog walk in May last year.

The Barclays bank worker said she had no idea what was happening when her mouth area began hurting, and thought she was suffering from “toothache”.

“I started getting jaw pain but I didn’t think much of it. I thought I might need to go to the dentist but we’d just gone into lockdown,” Ms Porteous said.

Lee Anne Porteous with daughter Emma, 6, dog Marley and cat Tigger said she began feeling unwell in May 2020 (Family handout/PA)
Lee Anne Porteous. with daughter Emma, six, dog Marley and cat Tigger, said she began feeling unwell in May 2020 (Family handout/PA)

“I was feeling pretty lousy so I thought I’d have an early night. Then I woke up about 1am and the pain from my mouth had actually spread into my chest.

“I felt sick and my stomach was hurting. I felt clammy and then I got pins and needles down my arm.

“Eventually I got my husband to call NHS 24 for some advice and as soon as I told the lady my symptoms she said she was going to get an ambulance.”

Paramedics arrived at the home and said she was having a heart attack.

She was rushed to the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank where she underwent emergency surgery to fit a stent in her blocked artery.

Ms Porteous said: “It was quite a shock. But at that time, I just felt numb.

Ms Porteous said she began to worry about her six-year-old daughter's future (Family handout/PA)
Ms Porteous said she began to worry about her six-year-old daughter’s future (Family handout/PA)

“It was probably after a couple of weeks that it hit me. I got it into my head I was going to die. And I started worrying about my wee girl, about whether she was going to be affected when she’s older.”

She added: “I’m a lot more positive about it now. I just want to do what I can to look after myself and enjoy my life to the best I can.”

Doctors do not know exactly what caused the cardiac episode, particularly given Ms Porteous had none of the “risk factors” associated with heart attacks such as smoking and obesity.

Ms Porteous said: “I’ll never know exactly why it happened. That’s why I want people to be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack. Because you can be young like me and have none of the risk factors, think you’re fit and healthy and you can still have one.”

When the British Heart Foundation (BHF) was founded in 1961, seven out of 10 heart attacks were fatal.

Now the charity claims at least seven out of 10 people survive.

"I want to live life the best I can", says Ms Porteous
‘I want to live life the best I can’, says Ms Porteous (Family handout/PA)

Sir Rory Collins, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Oxford, who was part of a groundbreaking team that discovered the use of aspirin and then statins to treat heart disease, said: “People don’t recall what it was like then back in the 80s when someone was admitted into a coronary care unit and all they were given was pain relief and watched.

“It’s extraordinary how much things have changed in the last 30 or 40 years. And much of that advancement, including into genetic disorders, has been funded by the BHF.”

Zena Forster, from Newcastle, had a stroke in April 2016 aged 60 after which she was diagnosed with familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) – a condition passed on from her mother.

A year later, in June 2017, she survived a heart attack which left her no longer able to work.

She said it left her feeling like she was “facing a dark abyss”.

Zena Forster in Vienna for her 60th birthday in December 2015 months before she suffered a stroke
Zena Forster in Vienna for her 60th birthday in December 2015, months before she suffered a stroke (Family handout/PA)

“I lost my confidence and felt like I wanted to run away. The effect on my mental health and wellbeing was nothing like I could’ve imagined,” said Ms Forster, now 65.

“The thing about heart disease is there’s no remission, it’s there permanently. Whatever I do I can only slow it down, I can’t cure it.”

Ms Forster said she got help and advice through the British Heart Foundation helpline, and has begun writing poetry to express her feelings about her illness.

She read one of her poems at her wedding to partner of five years Ray, which took place in August last year.

Zena and Ray Forster married in August 2020 (Family handout/PA)
Zena and Ray Forster married in August 2020 (Family handout/PA)

“Now I want to stay as fit and as healthy as I possibly can to spend longer with my husband – he’s my anchor,” she said.

Clinical trials are ongoing for a drug that can potentially block the production of cholesterol for months at a time.

And a way of screening for genetic disorders such as FH has already been developed, and is funded by the BHF.

Ms Forster said: “I’d say to anyone, take the test and if your cholesterol is high then take the statins. Don’t delay it. You really don’t want to end up with the kind of clogged arteries I have.”

Hugh Watkins, BHF professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Centre of Research Excellence John Radcliffe Hospital, University of Oxford, has spent his life trying to understand the genetic factors that make some individuals more likely to end up with heart disease.

He is currently leading one of the largest studies worldwide to identify genes that increase the risk of early coronary heart disease.

Ms Forster said she contacted the BHF's helpline for advice (Family handout/PA)
Ms Forster said she contacted the BHF’s helpline for advice (Family handout/PA)

Prof Watkins said: “When you hear about a young person who’s collapsed and died suddenly, like what happened recently to the Danish footballer Christian Eriksen, we’ve known for a very long time that they must be caused by genes that track down through families.

“Since the beginning, the BHF has been funding research into what are the genes? And possibly, how do we actually fix them?

“But these projects take long-term investment, we’re often talking over 10 or 20 years.

“The BHF are amazing at raising those funds but it’s an uphill struggle at the moment to maintain that.

“And it’s going to be important to the next generation of patients with heart disease that we have the science coming through to deal with it.”

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