Sheer luck saves Steve’s Life

It’s 2022 and we’re urging community members to use the new year as a fresh start for their health.
It’s time to get proactive, to stop ignoring warning signs and make an appointment with your GP.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not a reason to push other health concerns aside, so if you have any concerns the time to make an appointment is now.

Steve Hanel will turn 59 shortly, but only because he got lucky. He’d ignored the warning signs of something serious and knows now that his life could quite easily have been over too soon.

November 2021 was the first anniversary of Steve’s lifesaving surgery to reverse some of the damage caused by his smoking.

Steve has Carotid Artery Disease. Put simply his smoking damaged the smooth inner lining of the two main arteries in his neck. This caused calcium build up in the arteries that reduced blood flow to his brain and eventually threw plaque clots resulting in mini strokes.

“One carotid artery was 98 per cent blocked and the other was 50 per cent blocked. The surgery unblocked the worst one and the other one is still half blocked,” Steve said.

Two mini stroke episodes should have been enough for Steve to realise something was very wrong, but “like a lot of stubborn men” he ignored the signs until it was almost too late.

“I was driving from Cobden to Timboon and my left arm went all tingly and I had a white spot in the middle of my right eye,” he said.

“I was going through the corners at Devils Gully, so I couldn’t really pull over and then it all came good and I was fine again. I just thought I must have had my arm resting funny on the console and it had gone to sleep.”

In reality, a piece of calcium built up in his artery had broken free and gone to his brain causing the mini stroke. Luckily, it broke up, dissolved and passed.

“Then a week or so later, I was going for a cigarette at home and my hand wouldn’t work properly…I couldn’t pick it up. I got it though – and made it to the door, my arm was numb again, the white spot was there again and then my leg gave way,” he said.

“I went down on my hands and knees…it lasted for three or four minutes and then everything came good again. My wife Fiona told me I needed to see a doctor, but I just put it off and did nothing.”

Again, it was just sheer luck that saw another piece of calcium break up in Steve’s brain, rather than lodge and cause a stroke with permanent consequences.

“It was about another week later that I got out of bed on a Friday and I just didn’t feel great. I was fatigued…like I hadn’t been to sleep at all,” he said.

“I had a shower and headed in to work here at TDHS, but I just felt grey…I remember saying I was just spent…exhausted and that I wasn’t right.

“They took me over to accident and emergency and found my blood pressure was very very high. I’d always had high blood pressure, but my tablets had sorted that out until then.

“My GP sent me for a brain scan in Warrnambool, but it was all normal so then she booked me in for an ultrasound in Terang of the arteries in my neck.”

Steve said the ultrasound results were back with his GP in Timboon before he got back and he was told immediately that he needed surgery as soon as possible.

“The positive out of the COVID-19 situation at the time was that private hospitals were taking public patients to help out, so I was under the knife at the Epworth in two weeks.

“They could have put a stent in through my groin, but because of my age they wanted a longer-term fix, so they opened up my neck, put a bypass in, cut the artery open, removed all the buildup, installed a patch on the artery and put me back together.

“It was a five-hour surgery and I woke in intensive care the next morning already feeling a bit better. Two days later I was home.”

Steve said he counted himself very lucky to be alive. He urged everyone to listen to their body, recognise when something was different and seek immediate attention.

“My strokes could have been so much bigger and so much worse. There’s no use hiding behind closed doors, get checked out and deal with whatever is going on,” he said.

Lifestyle conditions are mostly to blame for the damage caused to the arteries.

Major factors that contribute to this damage include: smoking, history of smoking, high levels of certain fats and cholesterol in the blood, high blood pressure and/or high levels of sugar in the blood due to insulin resistance or diabetes.

When these factors cause damage, your body starts a healing process. The healing may cause the walls of the arteries to become less smooth, making them more likely to catch the fatty plaque as it passes through in the blood.

Blood clots from this attempt at healing can also create a perfect catchment area for the plaque to congregate.
The build-up can subsequently cause carotid artery disease, and potentially result in a stroke.

Many men feel uncomfortable discussing health issues affecting them and the pandemic meant that regular check-ups or aches and pains were even more ignored than usual.

Please contact our Timboon Clinic on 5558 6088 for a check up or to just have a chat.

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