I want to tell you my story, a story of how a coffee and the NHS saved my life, but also one that may show how the NHS could improve.
My story begins as a teenager, when I was 13. I remember well the “bleep test” from high school, the famous high-intensity run that was effectively used test an individual’s fitness. It took me barely minutes of running before I was out of breath and dropped out, coming near last. My teacher didn’t accept my results as normal and told me I almost certainly had asthma and to get my health tested. For years I ignored him, here I will admit to my own mistake.
At the age of 16, I finally accepted that I needed to get my health checked, not because of simply struggling, but also because of seemingly deteriorating health. Months at the local gym had seen not an improvement in how long I could exercise, but a step back, minutes of jogging became seconds. A trip to my local GP seemingly confirmed what my teacher had claimed years ago, I apparently had asthma.
Ironically, at the time of diagnosis, my GP even pointed out my abnormal result. I remember him saying how on all measures bar one, I was normal, however one particular result was awful, and to him this was enough to diagnose me as asthmatic. I was given an inhaler, a box was checked saying I had asthma, and for two years I didn’t see the health service again.
Then came one sudden day when I was 18, and a coffee potentially saved my life. I was sitting in a shop, drinking my coffee when my heart started to race. Palpitations had been brought on by the coffee. The first aider on site, as well as my friend and another trained first-aider, took the decision to ring an ambulance. I was taken to hospital, my heart was slowed from racing at over 240 beats per minute, and eventually I was discharged, yet first the hospital took a recording of my heart on an electrocardiogram (ECG). This ECG demonstrated clear problems, leading to me returning for multiple heavily scrutinising tests, I was then diagnosed with a rare form of congenital heart disease.
Nine months later I had open heart surgery, under the hand of one Dr Andreas Hoschtitzky. This corrected serious problems and heart defects which led to oxygen not sufficiently passing through my heart. The symptoms these caused included breathlessness, and a fast heart. These two traits are often shared with one thing, the asthma noted earlier. Yet, what I had was far worse. Without surgery I would have my organs fail within years, but I was a lucky one, my disease was caught early, due to the palpitations brought about by a coffee and the ECG the NHS granted me, which identified I had a problem.
Here my story ends on a good note, I will make a full recovery. Yet others are less lucky than I. One woman I met in the hospital was absolutely lovely, a really kind individual. She had the exact same diagnosis as I did, but she had been told she could not have surgery, her heart had deteriorated to the point she could no longer have it corrected. She was in her early 20s.
When I think of this woman, I feel immensely sad for her, yet I also feel for the countless others who I am sure face a similar danger, having heart disease, but having it identified too late to save them. When I walked around the hospital ward, shortly after surgery, I remember speaking to people, out of curiosity I asked if any of them had been diagnosed with asthma. I can’t remember a person who said they were not.
My suggestion to help identify heart disease earlier and help to tackle it, would be for the health service to offer an ECG to each individual diagnosed with asthma. Whilst an ECG might not identify the exact problem an individual has, it will quickly demonstrate irregularities within a heart to professionals, allowing them to identify if someone has a problem further than asthma alone. This would allow for severe medical problems to be caught early, potentially saving an individual their life.
Yet, how do we fund such a change to our heavily-strained NHS? We must be able to fund such schemes. I truly believe that this reform is likely to have no issue with financing, Asthma UK currently recognises damage to the economy of £1.1 billion due to asthma, large portions of which could be mitigated had those who are given a severe misdiagnosis been correctly treated. Further individuals who are misdiagnosed are likely to require costlier treatment at a later date as demonstrated by my A&E treatment, which costed the NHS far more than the ECG scan which would’ve show up my problems and hence prevented these later complications. In summary, to quote Obama who I am sure quoted others, “The cost of action may be great, but the cost of inaction will be far greater” – by further extending preventative measures, by tackling these problems before complications arise, we can save both lives and money.
If you find yourself agreeing with this proposal, please feel free to sign this petition.