“I embrace my condition like a friend”
Father-of-two Andrew Sharrock was diagnosed with idiopathic PAH after breathlessness worsened to blackouts. Medication is working well, and he knows that in many ways he has been lucky with his experiences – but he also believes his positive outlook has helped.
“At the start of last summer, I started getting out of breath going up the stairs to my flat, which is on the second floor. I used to do high intensity cardio at the gym a lot and I was super-fit before the first lockdown, but suddenly there I was struggling to get up my own stairs. I was getting tight-chested and light-headed, but I just put it down to lack of fitness because of the gyms closing. I never could have imagined what it actually was.
By the end of July, outdoor personal training was allowed, and I started sessions to build my fitness back up. I was in the middle of an intense workout with my trainer, when the tight chest and light head came back on and I felt dizzy and disorientated.
I had never felt anything like it. It was if someone had got a sledgehammer and clouted me around the head with it.
I leant on the garage door and the next thing I knew I was waking up on the floor. I went to my local A&E in Southport where I was kept in for 11 days while they monitored me and carried out various tests, which showed my heart was under a lot of pressure. I was told it was surrounded by fluid, so I needed to take some time off work and rest up for a few months. I was also given a referral for an MRI scan at a specialist cardiac hospital – Broadgreen Cardiac Unit in Liverpool – which took a long time to come through.
By that point, I was starting to feel a bit better; I wasn’t so out of breath, and I thought I might be on the mend. But after the MRI and a detailed CT scan, I was told I had an enlarged heart on the right-hand side and my cardiologist then diagnosed heart failure.
I was in tears walking out of the hospital. I had kept myself so fit and well, how the hell had this happened to me?
I was signed off work and given beta blockers, but I started getting worse. I was getting 100 yards down the road and feeling out of breath. I knew something wasn’t right.
A couple of weeks after the heart failure diagnosis, I blacked out again after climbing the stairs up to my flat. I was with my daughter so I rang her mother who took me back to A&E and this is when things started to turn around.
I had another ECG, and I was told it looked like there was pressure in my lungs, and I would need treating at a specialist centre in Sheffield.
I asked for more information about what was going on, so a consultant drew me a diagram and explained that he thought it might be pulmonary hypertension. I had never heard of it, but it was explained well to me and I was told that my case was one in a million. Lucky me, I thought.
I was transferred to the specialist centre and had a right heart catheter. The diagnosis was confirmed there and then, and I had a nitric oxide test at the same time. The pressures in my lungs dropped like a brick, so they knew what medication to put me on.
I was prescribed calcium channel blockers and sildenafil, and I was an in-patient for almost two weeks, which made a tremendous difference.
I was a different man coming out of the specialist centre to the one that went in. I noticed the difference as soon as I got home, when I walked up the stairs to my flat and didn’t feel the tight chest or breathlessness.
Most days since, I’ve been out walking, and I recently walked 23 miles in one day. I go along the sand dunes on the coast from Southport towards Formby, often with my camera.
I feel really positive for the future. I’m not going to take anything for granted or rest on my laurels, as I’m well aware things could get worse, but for the time being I feel that we’ve got good control of the condition.
The biggest low for me was the heart failure diagnosis. I was distraught. But I actually felt reassured when I was told I had PH, becasue it was the right diagnosis and I knew the specialist care was available.
I know I’m lucky that the diagnosis came quite quickly. For that, I would like to dedicate special thanks to the team at the Sheffield Pulmonary Vascular Disease Unit, the cardiology ward and ward 9a at Southport Hospital and Broadgreen Cardiac Unit in Liverpool, as they have all been major players in my condition being diagnosed.
I am a positive person and I do think that’s helped me over the last few months. The fitness I had before my diagnosis has helped too, and I had a good diet – as good as possible whilst doing shift work at a crisp factory anyway!
Now, I embrace my condition like a friend. Wherever I go, it’s going to be with me, so I just accept it for what it is.”