Kade's heart attack story

FOREVER 31 – A life lost far too young

“Mum, what does it feel like to have a heart attack?”
Christine Handford will never forget these words uttered by her son Kade.

Portrait of Kade

Kade was in a lot of pain when he called his mum one afternoon in July 2021 wanting help.

Christine recalls: “I explained the symptoms to him and asked why he wanted to know. He told me he thought he was having one. I told him to hang up and call Triple 0. I then called my husband and told him what was happening, and he just dropped everything and drove the half hour to Kade’s house. Kade rang me back and we spoke until the ambulance arrived.

"He told me he had severe pain down his left arm and that his hand was clenched tight. He was panicking, and I was talking to him and trying to be calm for both of us."

Christine heard the paramedics arrive, and Kade hung up the phone. It was the last time she would speak to her son.

Christine says: “Garry (Kade’s Dad) arrived while they were trying to revive him. I was two hours away at a horse show and felt useless. The drive back home was horrendous – little or no phone reception made getting updates nearly impossible. I just kept praying that the paramedics would be able to save him and had every belief that they would.

"A terrible dread crept over me when I met Garry to drive to the hospital. If there were any hope of saving him, they would’ve brought him in with lights and sirens. Garry told me they didn’t, and I knew it wasn’t looking good."

Kade sadly had gone into full cardiac arrest, and despite every effort to restart his heart, he could not be revived.

“Two years on and I still can’t believe that we lost him. It was just so sudden. These things happen to other people, not to you. We are still going through the grieving process. It’s like a scar, it’s always there and sometimes the scab comes off and it hurts like hell and some days it heals over and you get through the days. My husband Garry has never really spoken about what he saw while he was there with the paramedics, but it has affected him. It changes you.”

To his family and friends, Kade seemed in the prime of his life. He was healthy, not overweight, and a regular gym goer. But it was later revealed that he had a build-up of plaque in his arteries – known as atherosclerosis – which caused his heart attack.

Christine from Queensland says: “They told us he had a build-up of plaque in his heart equivalent to an 80-year-old. Afterwards, we could see there were some warning signs in the weeks before. He had bad headaches with his peripheral vision being a bit blurry, but he put it down to overdoing the weights at the gym.

Kade laughing
“On the day of his heart attack, he’d been to the gym with some of his mates. When they left, he said to one of them while they were outside talking, that he was having trouble getting his breath back. Not really thinking much of it, he drove to the shops and got himself some items for lunch, and drove home. It wasn’t long after that, that he started to have his heart attack. The shortness of breath after working out at the gym wasn’t a red flag for him or anyone else with him because he looked so healthy."

Kade’s death touched many people in the community with more than 400 people attending his funeral. A lot of others couldn’t make it because of a COVID lockdown in some areas and the livestream had over 300 logins.

Atherosclerosis research happening right now in our laboratories could hold the key to keeping families like Christine's together. With your support, we can help prevent the heartbreak of losing a loved one to a heart attack.

Kade's mother, Christine, holding photo of Kade

Christine says: “So many young people attended. Someone said to me afterwards that they had never been to a funeral where so many young people were in shock. When his coffin was put in the hearse after the service, there was no mingling or talking. It was just dead silence. We had a beautiful celebration of his life afterwards and many great stories were told. We were privileged to meet so many of his friends.”

Kade was a fabricator who worked on race cars and was well-known around the area.

Christine says: “After his death, we found out so much more about him through talking to those who knew him. He was a real listener and would be there for his friends. If someone needed to talk, he’d stay for hours. We are very proud of the man he was.

Kade with his brothers in front of the Christmas tree, 1996

"There's not a day that I don't think of him. He's my first thought when I wake up in the morning, it literally hurts that much. We've had two Christmases now without Kade, but we always try to have a day when we are together as a family."

Since Kade’s death, the family has all undergone heart health tests.

“Garry has had high cholesterol since his early 20’s. He is a farmer and has always been very active and ate very healthily. None of the rest of his family had any issues with cholesterol, so we just thought it was one of those things that he was unfortunate to have and never thought it could be genetic. But our other two boys have been tested since Kade’s death and they are fine. We’ve all undergone thorough testing since, with mine picking up a slightly elevated cholesterol. I’ve made changes to my diet and lifestyle since as a result,’ she says.

Christine is now determined to ensure more Australians get their heart health checked and wants to see more research undertaken into the cause of Kade's death.

Anyone 45 years and over, or 30 years and over for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, can get a Medicare-subsidised Heart Health Check with their doctor.

“It’s so important to know what is going on with your heart and listen to any warning signs. If in doubt, get yourself checked out. I personally believe these checks should be available to anyone over the age of 30 when there are risk factors. Heart disease is not just an old person's disease, it is the biggest killer of people in Australia. If it can be prevented in any way, shape or form, it needs to be prevented."
Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years