Heart attack survivor tells of life-changing surgery ahead of World Heart Day, Newsline

HE will use the day to reflect on his second chance at life. These were the words of Stanley Henkeman ahead of World Heart Day on Tuesday.

The 62-year-old from Diep River was diagnosed in April 2006 with advanced heart failure, also known as end-stage heart failure, a chronic condition in which the heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should.

Henkeman was born into a family where heart disease was a reality and he was genetically predisposed. He lived a healthy life and enjoyed hiking. While hiking in Swellendam in January 2001, the father of three suffered a severe heart attack which damaged the front section of the organ.

His life was not the same and he lived with diminished capacity for five years.

In April 2006, he was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure and went onto a heart transplant waiting list in June 2006.

On February 13, 2007, his life changed forever after having a successful transplant at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital.

Barnard is famously known for performing the world’s first heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in 1967.

Henkeman said: “I woke up February 14 with a sense that I could breathe freely. This is something I was unable to do for six years. My next awareness was that I wasn’t feeling tired and then I realised that the transplant was successful. It was difficult to remain positive when life gives you what seems like a knockout blow.

“What helped me was the eventual acceptance of my new reality. I made a conscious choice not to live in the shadow of a heart attack but in the victory of my survival. I learnt to live one day at a time and not be governed by fear.”

Henkeman does not only enjoy hiking but track and field and pétanque (a sport that falls into the category of lawn bowls and crown green bowling).

He went on to represent South Africa at six World Transplant Games and walked away with six medals, including gold in the 200m sprint event and the ball throw event.

“I am exceptionally grateful and humbled that my second chance afforded me the opportunity to represent my country and to compete with people from across the globe who also had transplants.

“One also feels good about excelling at the highest level of competition and being acknowledged as the world champion when you get gold. It is an amazing honour because this privilege is a rare one indeed,” he said.

The Bellville Athletics Club athlete said sport is an aspect that helps to balance his life.

“I enjoy the feeling of pushing my body to emerge from the comfort zone. I like to experience my body doing better than the previous time and to compete with others. I also enjoy the fact that sport brings people together because all my competitors have become good friends,” he added.

His last comprehensive check-up was in February and he was deemed to be in excellent health.

His wife Sharon said: “I am proud of him and I often tell him that I’m his biggest fan. Daily, I bear witness to him doing all he can to make our home, community, country a better place.

“While I often worry that he has too much on his plate, he has a heart for justice and inclusiveness and this drives him.”

Health promotions manager at Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, Dana Govender, said it is important to know the “warning signs” of a heart attack and to seek medical treatment immediately.

Some of the symptoms include:

– An overwhelming sense of anxiety.

– Shortness of breath.

– Feeling light headed and dizzy.

– Abdominal pain, feeling sick, or vomiting.

– The pain can spread to your shoulders, arms, neck or jaw sweating.

– Chest pain that could feel like pressure. Tightness, discomfort or squeezing.

Cardiologist at Melomed Bellville Hospital, Vernon Freeman, said World Heart Day serves to inform and equip people with the knowledge of cardiovascular diseases, which takes so many lives daily.

“Health is your most important asset. Yet, it is neglected the most with our modern lifestyle. We just do not make time to look after our health. People are willing to spend money on medication, but not prepared to spend the same on their fitness,” he said.