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
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
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
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
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!!!
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