My heart was like Swiss cheese

‘The doctor said my heart was like Swiss cheese – it was full of holes’

Ian Butler fell ill on a charity bike ride for Heartbeat and doctors later found 16 holes in his heart.

He talks to Laura Wild as part of the Evening Post campaign to help the charity raise cash to move to its new home.

BATTLING BACK TO HEALTH: Ian Butler at home in Leyland

BATTLING BACK TO HEALTH: Ian Butler at home in Leyland


Ian Butler is now recovering from major heart surgery following an episode which changed his life.

The 43-year-old from Leyland worked as a postman for 13 years and considered himself in good health. Little did he know that his heart was riddled with holes, which had been there since birth.

Ironically, Ian was taking part in an event to help Preston-based charity Heartbeat, which is currently trying to raise £37,000 to kit out new premises at the former National Football Museum.

Ian says: “I am reasonably healthy and I keep myself quite fit, but I started to notice I was getting short of breath and having dizzy spells. But, being a bloke you don’t take much notice, I just ignored it.

“Me and a couple of mates always do a bike ride each year for charity, and we thought we would do it for Heartbeat because my dad had a triple heart bypass three years ago.

“We had been training and I started feeling short of breath and dizzy, but I didn’t really think anything of it.

“I actually did the bike ride, it was Manchester to Blackpool, but I was in so much trouble. I couldn’t carry on. I got 20 miles in and just had to stop.

“I couldn’t get my breath. I had to drop out.

“About a week later I thought I am going to have to go to the doctors.

“I went to the doctors and he gave me a quick once over, he checked my pulse, put the stethoscope on my heart, it was just a routine check-up. He said ‘everything seems fine. I can’t see any problems.’ But because I had been experiencing dizzy spells and shortness of breath they did an ECG.

“They said something wasn’t right, my heart was all out of rhythm. At first they didn’t know if it was the machine, so they did another one and it was the same thing again.

“Within 10 minutes I was in the back of an ambulance on the way to Chorley hospital. They said I had atrial fibrillation, a rhythm problem.

“I was in hospital for about 36 hours. I was put on a drug called warfarin and they said they would shock the heart back into rhythm, but they needed to get my blood to a certain level, which could take eight to 10 weeks.

“In the meantime I had all these other tests, x-rays, scans, when I went back to Chorley to speak to cardiology they showed me the scans.

“They scan showed an enlargement on the right side of my heart which shouldn’t be there. I was referred to Wythenshawe Hospital where I had an MRI which found two large holes in my heart, called atrial septal defect, which were 2cm in diameter.

“They told me I would need an operation, and I needed it pretty soon.

“They did a lot more tests to find out which would be the best way to do, then they found a lot more small holes around my heart as well.

“The doctor said my heart was like a block of swiss cheese – it was full of holes.

“They had been there since birth but had never caused me a problem, then all of a sudden they decided to kick off.

“Because I kept myself fit and healthy it had kept me going, it had just got to the stage where it had enough.

“In total, I had two large holes and 14 to 16 smaller ones. There was quite a bit wrong.

“And my heart was still out of rhythm.

“They did further tests to find out how they would solve this problem. I was told in early December I would have to have open heart surgery.

“It was early February this year that they did the operation.”

Surgeons found that Ian had a disconnected tricuspid valve and a damaged septal area in his heart. They created a new middle and patched the holes up with cow intestine. It was like a puncture repair kit for a bike.

He continues: “They restarted my heart after the operation, then it went back into a normal rhythm.

“I am lucky to be here. Before Christmas last year I couldn’t walk any distance at all. I couldn’t do anything. I was 42 at the time. I had gone from a reasonably fit bloke to being in a real mess.

“I was panicky, thinking what if they can’t fix it. But they did fix me and this is why I go to Heartbeat. I am back on my feet.

“I can’t explain what it was like, especially at 42.

“I am a lot better in a way. I am a lot safer because I have been fixed.”

Ian is on a nine-month programme at Heartbeat and he attends twice a week. He is building his fitness up there. He started attending classes at Clayton Green in Chorley, but now attends the charity’s current headquarters in Pond House in Fulwood.

He adds: “I have learnt a lot over the past 12 months about heart conditions. Apparently, a lot of people have holes in their hearts and they can lead a good life.

“I’m 6ft 6in and that is part of my down fall, they think I might have Marfan Syndrome, where your organs stretch and become disconnected.”

Ian says the move to the former National Football Museum at Deepdale will be great for the charity, adding: “I will be able to say I go training at North End!”

Help us raise £37,000 for Heartbeat – Here is how you can donate.

Call Heartbeat on 01772 717147 to make a donation by debit or credit card.

Text a donation, text, MAKE37 £5 to 70070

First published 16:08 Tuesday 07 October 2014

To see the full article in the Lancashire Evening Post click here