So lucky to be alive

TWO days after suffering a massive heart attack 91-year-old Emily Hale was enjoying a cup of tea at home - thanks in part to the generosity of Norfolk people.

TWO days after suffering a massive heart attack 91-year-old Emily Hale was enjoying a cup of tea at home - thanks in part to the generosity of Norfolk people.

Heart experts said that it was amazing that she could go home so soon because of advances in medical surgery.

The grandmother of three had two heart attacks on Wednesday morning, but thanks to a pioneering new service at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, she was able to have a life-saving operation.

On Friday she went home feeling fit and well and having recovered from her heart attack.

Last week it was reported that the N&N's new heart attack centre is due to open today, offering a life-saving angioplasty to unblock and repair the artery within two hours of a heart attack. It is the first time that angioplasty has been available in Norfolk in the crucial period immediately after a heart attack, and means quicker recovery times as well as lower death rates.

The service has to be available across the country by the end of next year. In Norfolk it has been made possible partly with the help of more than �1m raised through the Balloons for Hearts appeal to kit out an angiography suite at the N&N.

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Liam Hughes, the N&N cardiologist who did her operation, said: “It is extraordinary. A 91-year-old comes in with a potentially massive heart attack, and goes home on the third day as if nothing has happened.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say if we were not able to stent this artery she would not have survived. At that age the residual narrowing of the arteries not enough blood would have been able to get through.”

Up until now heart attack patients have been given clot-busting drugs by ambulance crews on the way to hospital, but the treatment does not always work. The new heart attack centre officially opens on Monday for people in central Norfolk, and from June the N&N and Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire will be offering primary angioplasty for the whole region.

When Mrs Hale had her heart attack on Wednesday morning, paramedics gave her the clot-busting drugs and took her to the hospital. But the treatment had not worked well enough and later that morning she had another heart attack while at the N&N. Fourteen minutes later she was having an angioplasty, where a small balloon is put into the artery and inflated to unblock it. A stent - a metal scaffold to keep the artery open - is then put in to keep it clear. She was awake for the whole procedure, which was done through an artery in her wrist, and was sitting up in bed with a cup of tea a little later.

Dr Hughes said: “Although we are not officially opening until Monday for this sort of thing we were able to take her straight through and do the operation.

“I think it was about 14 minutes from her lying in here having a heart attack to having her artery opened. The effect was amazing to see what she was like after the operation compared with before the operation.”

Mrs Hale, who lives in Hellesdon, said: “When they took me through for the operation I didn't feel a thing. I didn't even realise they had already finished. I had my eyes closed and I thought they were still setting up! By the time I got back on the ward I didn't have any pain. I feel fine.

“I want to praise everyone who has looked after me.”

Dr Hughes said it showed the importance of dialling 999 if you suspect a heart attack. Symptoms can include crushing pains in the chest, which may travel to the neck, jaw or arms, shortness of breath, and feeling clammy or sweaty.

Up until now just a handful of people have had angioplasty as an emergency procedure in Norfolk, with others having to travel to Papworth. Leslie Tickle, 66, a retired UEA professor from Barnham Broom, was one of the first people to have primary angioplasty at the N&N. He said: “It was wonderful. I watched the whole thing on screen. I saw the probe going in, the clot being removed, the arteries open up and I saw the flow start. I was amazed. I just lay there watching it all.

“If they hadn't done what they did in a hurry I might have been left unable to do anything. Now I am fitter than I was before I had the heart attack.”