Personal Stories: Barry Whitlock Story-From down under

I have been receiving emails from Brian for some time and as with all of you, I have been dismayed by some stories and motivated by others.

I thought it was time to share my story as one of the questions I, together with my family asked was “what is now my life expectancy?” I remember being told that the doctors knew someone who was still alive after some ten years and that was all I could find out. Any way, this is part of my story.

I still remember the pain radiating through my back into my chest as if it was yesterday. My immediate reaction was “God, I’m having a heart attack and I said “goodbye” to my wife, son and daughter-in-law who were all standing near me.

I said “I’m having a heart attack” and my son said “settle down Dad, you are too fit”.

I remember the ambulance arriving and drifting in and out of consciousness.  I don’t remember too much else for some time. Fortunately, I had been taken to the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane, Australia. There I came under the care of Professor Malcolm West and his incredible team. For that I will always be grateful. I was told that I had had an aortic dissection. That meant nothing to me as I had never even heard of it. When I could think straight, my first thoughts were “I wonder how long I have?” That was in September 1993.

I had a thoracic aorta dissection and remember little of what happened during the next few days. Eventually, I was told that the dissection had attached itself back to the walls of the aorta and I wouldn’t need an operation for the present. I understand that was due to the short length of time in my being treated and of course the excellent care that I received.

I lived only ten minutes from one of the best cardiac hospitals in the world and an ambulance happened to be only a couple of minutes away.

I don’t remember too much about the next few days except for the wonderful medical staff who seemed to be around me constantly.

After a few days I went home and still remember lying in bed looking out at the garden and thinking what a blessing it was that I was still alive and could appreciate my family and friends who were around me. I do remember how weak I felt. I had never experienced a feeling like that. You see I had played Squash Rackets professionally in Europe and had been National Squash Coach to three European Countries. My son was right. This couldn’t have happened to ME – I WAS too fit AND only 54 years of age.

Well, my Squash days were over but I returned to work as a Fundraising Consultant a few months later. Regular check ups were in order at the Prince Charles Hospital and a couple of years later I was told that the aorta needed to be repaired as it was approaching a dangerous dimension.

It was then that I met another team of specialists who performed the operation headed by Dr Michael Gardner, again at the Prince Charles Hospital. How we can take these highly trained, dedicated people for granted – that is until our life is in their hands. I mean that literally. Those of you who have had this operation know how I feel!

Again, after some time recovering I returned to work once again. My wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988 and had been operated on. She had recovered and had five good years. Then in 1994 it reemerged, this time in the liver. After a great deal of chemotherapy it seemed she would lose this fight as it then went into her bone marrow.

I was then diagnosed with prostate cancer and went into the Royal Brisbane Hospital at the end of March 1997 to have my prostate removed. I was told they weren’t sure as the cancer may have broken out marginally. I came out of hospital on our wedding anniversary and my wife died four days later.

I once again returned to work and of course regular check ups. In 2002, I was once again told that the aorta had reached a dimension were it needed to be repaired. So once again, back into hospital were Dr Gardiner performed an operation on the top of the arch of the aorta. For those of you who are, like me, ignorant of most of the inner parts of our body, that is the part of the aorta where the blood vessels go to the brain. It was an eight hour operation and again thanks to a wonderful and understanding medical staff, I lived to fight another day. You see the op does affect your thinking and I tried to escape from the hospital and still in my pajamas I couldn’t understand why none of the taxis at the hospital taxi rank would let me in their car. (This was two days after the op) Well, the staff eventually found me and cared for me unbelievably, even though I accused them of trying to kill me.

As you can read, I survived and am still working as a fundraising consultant even though I have been told that the small part of my aorta between the last graft and my heart valve may have to be replaced.

This is the first time I have tried to put this all on paper and already forget many of the details.  Here I am some 14 years after my dissection, almost 69 years of age and still working full time. I refuse to give in after all the marvelous work that has gone into keeping me going.

I am happy to receive any emails if any of you would like to chat!!!

Contact Barry


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