Michael Hunt.jpg


Photo: Michael Hunt with wife Beth and daughter Isobelle

Working hard and playing hard, Michael Hunt had a full and active life with no concerns about his health.

When he first started experiencing heart palpitations now and again, he dismissed it thinking it was nothing.

Michael, 50, a project manager at BAE Systems in Warton, explains: “It first started a couple of years ago. I began getting some palpitations in my chest.

“It would happen for a few seconds and then it would stop and I would carry on as normal.

“It just happened every now and again and I could be at home or at work and it wasn’t linked to any strenuous activity.

“At first, I didn’t think anything of it as it didn’t affect me and only happened a few times.”

However, a few months later, Michael noticed the palpitations were happening more frequently and became aware of them a couple of times a week.

Michael, who is married to Beth and has a 12-year-old daughter Isobelle, said: “Each time it happened, it felt like three or four jumps in my chest.

“I was working and had a pretty active life. I played football every week and I went out walking at weekends.

“I was doing everything I wanted to and these palpitations weren’t having an impact on my life.

“But I decided I should go to see my GP to find out what was going on.

“My GP did an ECG and referred me for an appointment to see a cardiologist. While I was waiting for the appointment, I wasn’t unduly worried.

“There was a bit of concern at the back of my mind as there is a history of heart trouble on my mum’s side of the family. My mum is one of eight and five of the eight have died of something heart related.

“But because I felt fine in every other respect apart from the palpitations, I convinced myself it was nothing to worry about.”

The palpitations increased in frequency and in February last year, Michael’s GP started him on a betablocker after speaking to Dr Ravi Singh, consultant cardiologist at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust who Michael had an appointment lined up with the following month.

Michael, who lives in Whalley, said: “My condition became worse and as my heart function deteriorated, I began feeling more and more poorly.

“I knew something was not right as, by this point, I was struggling to walk and couldn’t sleep at night as I was experiencing breathing difficulties.

“But I never imagined it would be something so serious.”

When Michael went for his appointment at Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, Dr Singh was so concerned about his condition, he decided he needed admitting as an emergency patient on coronary care.

Michael explained: “My heart rate was around 140 to 150 beats a minute and I was having a number of fluctuations and they were more continuous than intermittent by this point.

“They wanted to stabilise me to bring my heart rate down. One of the consequences of my heart not working properly was that fluids were being retained in my body and they wanted to treat this too.”

Doctors carried out tests on Michael and discovered he had cardiomyopathy – a disease of the heart muscle. They also found the fluctuations Michael was experiencing was Non-Sustained Ventricular Tachycardia.

Michael said: “Basically, what was happening was that my heart was beating really quickly and because it was beating so fast, it was not completing a full rhythm.

“So it was stopping in order to start again and that is not an effective heartbeat.

“The heart should pump blood around the body for oxygen and when it doesn’t, it doesn’t complete the cycle and this led to fluid being contained.”

To add to Michael’s shock, he was given his ejection fraction figures. Ejection fraction is a measurement of the percentage of blood leaving your heart each time it contracts.

An ejection fraction of 55 percent or higher is considered normal while an ejection fraction of 50 per cent or lower is considered reduced.

Michael said: “For most people, ejection fraction is something like 60 to 70 per cent.

“Mine was found to be 15 per cent.

“This along with my heart rhythm being so poor determined that I had serious heart failure.

“It came as a massive shock - not just for me but for Beth and our daughter Isobelle as well.”

Michael was hooked up to various machines at Royal Blackburn Hospital’s coronary care where he was given anti heart failure treatment and had the fluid in his body reduced.

Michael said: “I had an angiogram which luckily showed my arteries weren’t blocked.

“I was in hospital for just over two weeks and doctors stabilised me through medication, fluid management and weight loss.”

Michael discovered there was a hereditary link with the heart condition on his mother’s side of the family as two of his aunts also had cardiomyopathy.

Michael realised his lifestyle had also affected the effectiveness of his heart and he recognised this was something he did have the power to change.

Michael explained: “When discharging me from hospital, Dr Ravi Singh was conscious I was still in the heart failure range and he was considering the fitting of a pacemaker.

“He set up for me to see a specialist in electrical impulses at the North West Heart Centre in Wythenshawe.

“It was assessed my heart was in a position where really it should be replaced with a heart transplant.

“However, I wasn’t displaying the symptoms that went along with these kinds of measurements in other patients and was functioning despite the heart failure.

“At this point, my ejection fraction had improved from 15 per cent to about 20 to 25 per cent.

“However, I was still in the serious range as anything under 35 per cent is deemed to be serious heart failure.”

Michael wanted to avoid being fitted with a pacemaker and decided to take drastic steps to change his lifestyle to try to improve his heart function.

Michael explained: “I wasn’t scared of having a pacemaker fitted but I wanted to give everything the best chance for my heart to work effectively.

“I knew I could do something about my diet, exercise and alcohol and decided to change my lifestyle.”

While Michael was fit and active and ate fresh foods, he confesses he enjoyed rich food and liked a drink most days.

Michael said: “It was a huge shock when I was told I had serious heart failure and was a candidate for a heart transplant so I thought I would change my lifestyle to see if I could improve things.

“I definitely enjoyed my beer and wine and had a drink most evenings.

“My diet was good as in I used good ingredients in my meals. But I liked rich foods and would always use butter and cheese in my cooking and put double cream in the mash.

“For breakfast, I would have sausage or bacon rolls and I liked steak, chicken, beef and roast dinners.

“Every meal was fresh and good but was quite high in calories. I knew I could take steps to change my diet for the better.

“The other key message Dr Singh and the team drove into me was that the heart is a muscle that needs to be worked for it to be more effective.”

Michael was about 20 stones when he was admitted to hospital.

He stopped drinking alcohol completely and cut out all chocolates, crisps, sweets and cakes from his diet.

Michael said: “I went from drinking around 50 units of alcohol a week to nothing.

“I had always eaten fresh meats and vegetables but I changed my portion size. I also made sure I ate a good balance of carbohydrates and protein.

“Breakfast became fresh fruit, yogurt and muesli and I only ate when I felt hungry.

“As my heart function was so poor, I couldn’t do any strenuous exercise so I went on lots of walks and walked five miles every day.

“I did not find these things difficult as the shock of my diagnosis made it all seem easy.

“I knew it was either make these changes or have a pacemaker fitted.”

Over the space of six months, Michael went from weighing around 20 stones to just 13-and-a-half stones on the scales.

To his delight, Michael went for an echocardiogram recently and has now been told his heart ejection fraction is in the normal range.

Michael is full of praise for Dr Singh and the team at Royal Blackburn Hospital who gave him the support and motivation to make the lifestyle changes.

Michael said: “The care I had at Royal Blackburn Hospital’s coronary care unit was excellent.

“Everyone was superb and Dr Singh was fantastic in the way he explained everything to me and engaged me in my recovery and made me feel involved in it.

“I have the greatest admiration and respect for everyone I came into contact with at East Lancashire Hospitals, not just for their skills but the caring way they treated me as a person.

“I have now re-introduced alcohol into my life but don’t drink during the week and just have a few drinks on a Friday night.

“I know I am healthier having lost that weight and I am exercising regularly and back to playing football and badminton and am still doing the walking too.

“What happened to me gave me the wake-up call I needed and educated me to change my lifestyle for the better.

“I am now the healthiest I have ever been. It is not that I was particularly unhealthy before but we can all do things to improve our lifestyle.”

In July, Michael turned 50 and to make it a double celebration, he married long-term partner Beth on that day and surprised friends who thought they were coming to celebrate his birthday.

Wife Beth is full of praise for the care Michael has had on his health journey:

“Although we knew something was obviously wrong with Mike, I never expected to accompany him to his first appointment with Dr Ravi Singh and be told after a number of tests that there was a bed waiting for him on the Coronary Care Unit.

“Dr Singh and his team were sensitive and caring in their approach not only towards Mike but also to me as his partner.

“The team on the CCU were always there with a smile in what can obviously be a scary environment to the uninitiated with constant bleeps, and alarms going off.

“Every time I had to say goodbye to Mike and leave him, I knew he was in the best place and was going to be looked after.

“Only in the following months did we come to appreciate how truly unwell Mike had been and that without the care and support of Dr Singh and his team, Mike’s story could have had a very different ending.

“For that I will always thank them.”

Dr Singh, consultant cardiologist at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “Michael had severe heart failure and presented with Class 4 heart failure which is being breathless at rest.

“Michael was almost not able to complete full sentences or get dressed because of the breathlessness he was experiencing.

“Michael’s story shows that with the right lifestyle changes and the right medication, it is possible to turn things around from having severe heart failure to having normal heart function depending on underlying functions.

“Not everyone is that lucky but the dramatic change that occurred quite quickly in Michael showed me there was room to improve.

“After a good few months, we started noticing changes in the heart and Michael’s heart failure went from severe, to moderate to mild and is now normal.

“Michael felt he had got into a lifestyle where he was becoming more unfit and not eating as well as he could.

“It is easy to get into that rut when you are busy and forget to look after yourself.

“It is great to see how Michael’s health has improved so dramatically.”