Real life

"I had a midlife crisis at 34.  It was 2011.  That was the year my beautiful dad died after a long struggle with heart disease.  He was 68.

Fred Chettle was a quietly intelligent man who had a smile that could light up a room, no matter how much he was hurting on the inside.

Dad had a long list of heart problems that first emerged around the year 2000.  He had an enlarged heart.  Later there was surgery to insert stents.  I still recall the surgeon reading him the riot act because there was so much calcification in his heart, he couldn’t perform one part of the operation.

Dad casually revealed that he wasn’t surprised, because his parents and grandparents also had cardiovascular issues.  I was stunned.  That meant that there were three generations of heart disease in front of me.

I was relatively fit.  I’ve never smoked.  But, like nine in 10 Australians, I was at risk.

I naively thought the worst aspect of heart disease was the prospect of having a fatal heart attack.  I had no idea how debilitating it could be.

I watched my dad, who used to do the crossword in the newspaper every day, struggle to pick up a pen.  He had blackouts.  He could barely walk.  There were sickening coughing fits.  And after a quadruple bypass my Mum called me.  My Dad, her best friend, was beyond exhausted. “He won’t get better.  He has chronic heart failure. That’s what I’m trying to tell you Nicky.”

A few months later Dad had a fall.  And his sick heart couldn’t sustain him.  

I held his hand, and resolved that my daughter wouldn’t ever be in the same position thinking “It didn’t have to be this way.”

I think the greatest tribute I can offer is to live the life Dad can’t.  And to look after my heart.  My doctor says you can’t change your genetics, but you can minimise the risk factors. 

I’m grateful for the work the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute is doing to save lives.  And I’m hopeful that one day, it won’t be necessary," - Nicole, Fred's daughter. 

You can help families struggling with heart disease by supporting vital discoveries at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. 

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