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Garry's Fitness Feat

Garry was born in 1977 with Tetralogy of Fallot (ToF), as well as a hypoplastic pulmonary artery. At the time his parents were told to take him home. It was not until 3 years later that his mum noticed he was starting to struggle…

“They took me to Nine Wells hospital in Dundee for a heart catheter to see what was going on. After what they discovered they were told the only place that can deal with this is Great Ormond Street Hospital, London.

So that was it, the dates were set and off we went from the Highlands of Scotland to London for major heart surgery.

The operation, performed by Professor Marc De Leval, a world renowned congenital heart surgeon, went as planned and within 48 hours, I was up and on my feet like nothing had happened. My parents were told I was repaired for life, so after a couple of years after full repair, I was lost to follow up check-ups.

I lived a completely normal childhood and did what everybody else did; even now I never hold back and do whatever I want.

When I left school I served my time working on Petrol and LPG delivery Lorries - which was very heavy duty work. After that I got a job at sea working as a Marine engineer on board sea going tugboats, moving ships, barges and oil rigs throughout The North Sea and Europe. That work was also rather dangerous and heavy-duty. Then I got offered a job offshore so I’m now a Chief Mechanic on the Beryl Alpha oil platform.

As I said earlier, I was lost to follow up yearly check-ups at a very early age, so for 27 years I had no checks on my heart.  It wasn't until I was 30 that I had my first check up in Inverness after the doctor said I should go for one.  I went in and was told I was fine, so I just carried on living as normal. Six years later, I often found myself getting a sore chest, so I pushed for a check-up and was told it was just acid reflux. I was relieved, I didn’t have to worry! However, shortly after this I was told that I have Free Pulmonary Regurgitation and a severely dilated Right Ventricle so I would need further open heart surgery; as you can imagine was blown away by this. I felt fine, apart from chest pains; I could climb 60 metre ladders and hundreds of steps a shift at work without feeling out of breath.

My case was transferred to the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Glasgow, where the Scottish Adult Congenital Cardiac Service is based.  When I arrived I had a fitness stress test, ECHO, EGC and an MRI and was told I have an amazing set of lungs and a heart cardio output of 70% with Free Pulmonary Regurgitation and a severely dilated Right Ventricle. So I would need surgery within the year.

The big date was finally set – 18th February 2014, so finished work offshore one week before my surgery and had a peaceful week at home before I drove down to Glasgow for the operation on Sunday the 16th February.

Once I had arrived in Glasgow, they carried out routine tests over the first couple of days, I met one of the surgeons and signed consent forms as due to the scar tissues from my first open heart surgery, the risks were much higher. There was also a chance I could have needed a pace maker, and we discussed the ins and outs of this possibility. 

He also told me that they were going to inspect the internal patch VSD closure from my first surgery, as it may have a hole in it. He told me that once he had met me and read my notes, it was almost as if they had the wrong person, which did cheer me up. 

The night before the operation they gave me some happy pills. On the morning of operation I woke up calm like any other morning - the staff were fantastic. I was very calm about the whole thing to be honest; the only thing that bothered me was I was made to sit in a seat in pre op. I was thinking surely they lie me down before I get put to sleep. The anaesthetist came and sat next to me and explained to me what was going to happen, and to this day that's all I remember. So off I went to surgery, it was 7 hours long.

Waking up in ICU was not the most pleasant of times; I was very sore and had 3 drains which were incredibly painful to be removed. Then I was moved into the high dependency unit, which wasn't too bad until night time. I was in so much pain, I asked for stronger pain medication which took an hour to come. After that I slept for 6 hours and woke up a different person, I was in far less pain! About 48 hours after surgery I was transferred to the ward. Then physiotherapy nurses came to visit me and I was made to stand up. I got up and stood still on the spot, they were quite happy that I was steady on my feet and they ask me to walk to a chair in my room and sit down, again, I had no problems with doing this and was then made to stand up and walk to door in to room; again without issue. I was instructed to do this once every hour and if I felt that I could, walk to the window at end of the corridor that was about 20 metres away from my room.  

After a couple of hours I felt I could venture to the window down the corridor. I did this couple of times and then got bored so I started walking every corridor in the wards of the heart department; I think it worked out about 300 meters an hour. The next Morning I walked past the Physiotherapists Assistant at the ward control station she gave a double take and asked what the hell I was doing. I explained I was bored of the walk that they asked me to do, so I decided to walk all of the corridors. She told me off as I was close to walking out of range of Wi-Fi Heart Monitor - oops!  She then told me that I was walking way above the required amount, and if I could walk up a set of stairs, I would be signed off the Physiotherapy treatment so in the afternoon I walked up a set of stairs and was signed off. Six days after surgery I was finally allowed to go home.
I took my time with recovery, walking every day and slowly getting fit again. I joined a gym two months after my operation; I started off using the weight machines with no weights attached, just to do the full range of movements. By the time four months had passed I was more or less pain free and was given the go ahead to return to work. 

A year later I had my post op check-up. I again did a cardio stress test, MRI and ECHO. When I saw the Cardiologist she said I was phenomenal to be able to complete the stress test with a ToF heart. A heart healthy person has a cardio fitness of around 80%; a person with ToF should manage about 65%. Despite my heart condition I have a cardio fitness level of 84%! Nowadays I am back to living and working normally, in the future I will need a new pulmonary valve but I have been told that this will be performed via keyhole rather than open heart surgery.”

by Garry Mackay

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