Know the warning signs of heart attack and your risk factors

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Aaron Robinson
Aaron Robinson now knows that he should have been conscious of his heart health from an early age, but he wasn’t.

“I thought it would never happen to me,” Aaron said. 

Family history is an increasingly recognised indicator of risk in the battle against heart disease, and in Aaron’s family tree many branches and twigs have been affected.

“My father had a heart attack in his early 50s; his mother died of heart disease and his father’s brother died in a car accident that was attributed to a heart attack at the wheel.”

Aaron, now 40, was a smoker for “20-odd years” before giving up in his mid-30s. He lived in South Australia’s Port Lincoln until a few years ago, and while there his weight ballooned to more than 100 kilograms and rising.

“I was in a shift work environment, in office work, and sitting a lot. It’s hard.”

A move to Adelaide gave Aaron the impetus to begin changing and improving his lifestyle. “I began walking more and going to the gym – and getting healthy food delivered.”

The new regime was going well and his weight slowly fell to about 87 kilograms. And then, in August, life changed suddenly.

“I’d just had a shower after finishing a five-kilometre treadmill run when my left arm got this heavy feeling with a deep aching pain in my elbow."

"Then after a few minutes, I got a dull pain at the top of the left side of my chest.”

Initially, Aaron wasn’t too worried as he’d had the same symptoms a few days earlier and they’d lasted only 10 minutes.

But this night, the pain didn’t disappear after he took some paracetamol. In fact, it began radiating above his shoulder into his neck.

“I thought ‘this is getting worse’ and I thought I should check the heart attack symptoms on my computer – I ticked four out of five.”

Wisely, he quickly called 000 and when the ambulance took him to hospital, it was found that he had had a heart attack, at the age of only 38. The next day a stent was put in his right artery, which had been found to be 90-95% blocked.

Aaron feels lucky that he’s come out of his brush with death with the knowledge and assistance to help him live a long life.

“I went to cardiac rehab and loved it. It improved my knowledge about the heart itself, about heart disease, diet, exercise and what to do in the future.”

The challenge for Aaron now is to continue to reduce his cholesterol levels to ensure there is no more dangerous build-up of plaque in his blood vessels. The risk for patients like Aaron is that the plaque breaks off and travels through the bloodstream, potentially causing a blockage such as a stroke or heart attack.

Aaron’s doctor has told him his cholesterol needs to fall and Aaron is confident he’ll be able to achieve that.  “I’ve been on the health bandwagon for two years; the key is not to choose the easy food and to exercise. I’m doing MyMarathon and I exercise a lot.”

He hopes that telling his story will help others to realise the importance of knowing their risk factors (including family history) and of getting their heart health checked.

“Heart disease is not just about old people.”

Learn the warning signs of a heart attack

Is heart disease part of your story?

We want to hear from people who are living with heart disease and from families and friends who care for, or who have lost, loved ones with heart disease.