Tuesday 28th April 2020
At the very height of the country’s response to the COVID19 outbreak, George became unwell and was rushed to hospital unaware that the heart valve disease symptoms he was suffering were life-threatening.
Retired factory worker George Clague has lived in the beautiful hills of the Lake District for his entire life. In his youth, he would spend his time camping in his favourite spots and later in life, he and his wife would spend the summer wandering along the trails.
This is his valve disease story.
“It’s really hard to say when I first realised something was up. Part of me thinks it was when my daughter came around and I couldn’t get up to let her in, but if I look back, I had been feeling tired, a bit dizzy and a bit short of breath for a while before then. I’d found myself sitting down to watch something on TV and then waking half an hour later having missed the lot.
At the time, it was just very easy to find reasons for why I felt that way. I smoke, so shortness of breath could have been that, and I had recently started antibiotics for COPD, so that was in my mind too. I think as you get older you do notice gradual changes due to your age and you just adjust your life to accommodate them; I just adjusted to the wrong things and changed my habits to mask how much I was struggling with my symptoms. Moving forward I need to make sure I'm asking the right questions about my body - and thinking critically about the answers too.
I definitely didn’t realise how big the problem had become until my daughter came around. I can’t explain that feeling, I just felt so so tired and couldn’t move. Luckily, my daughter was able to let herself in with her spare key and we knew we had to start solving the problem. We called the doctor and he recommended some things, but soon I passed out and my daughter called an ambulance. Next thing I know I woke up in a hospital with an oxygen mask and a team of people buzzing around me.
People have asked me if I was worried about Coronavirus before I went in but the reality is that I didn’t really have the chance to be worried. Before I knew anything about it, I was already there. I’ll say this, I was tested several times whilst I was at the hospital (all negative) and at no point was I worried that the right precautions weren’t being taken. I knew I was in good hands both in Carlisle and once I was transferred to James Cook hospital.
I was in Carlisle Hospital until my condition improved enough for me to be transferred to James Cook, where I would be treated. Initially, they wanted to open me up and replace my valve, but the team thought I might be better off with a TAVI. I had a CT scan and an assessment and we came to a shared decision to move forward with the TAVI.
What can I say about my treatment? I’ve had tooth extractions that have taken longer. I am not a tech-savvy man, so the idea of it was beyond me. I imagine explaining the procedure to someone who struggles with emails was a challenge for the team, but they explained it well and although I was a bit scared I had total faith in the staff. What they did to me in an hour and a half blows my mind.
I had my TAVI on Thursday and on Friday morning I felt absolutely great. It was like a miracle. I walked out on Friday feeling better than I had in I don’t know how long. They said if they couldn’t do the TAVI I would have been in for a couple of weeks, and here I was wandering out on Friday afternoon feeling fit. I still can’t believe how quick the recovery was. When I tell people what happened to me and how I was in the days before the treatment they can’t believe it either. It genuinely felt like a miracle!!
I know people are worried about theirs and their loved ones health at the moment, which is why I wanted to share my story. It’s easy to feel anxious and scared, I would just say try not to worry. From the moment my daughter called an ambulance to the moment I walked out of the hospital every person I encountered was brilliant. They made me feel at ease and I just knew I was in good hands. I was tested for the virus at several different points and was given the all-clear each time. You just have to put your trust in the people who know what they’re talking about, like the lot at James Cook hospital.
I went through detection, diagnosis, treatment and began my recovery during this horrible crisis, and I have come out the other side better than before. I owe so much to my daughter, the ambulance crew and everyone at Carlisle and James Cook, their quick thinking, professionalism and care have made me a better man again. I’ve no doubt there are plenty of people feeling exactly the same way about our NHS all over the country right now, we owe them all so much. ”
Thank you George for your incredible story. George’s story highlights the importance of symptom recognition and thinking critically about your health and how it is changing. It also serves as a reminder to everyone that whilst valve disease treatment has been disrupted, emergency treatment continues, and thanks to innovative technologies clinicians are able to streamline pathways and optimise hospital stays.
George's story also highlights the incredible work that our NHS continue to do for us despite the strain it is under. The staff at James Cook should be proud of what they were able to do for George and his family, as well as all the other patients who they continue to deliver for despite the challenges presented at this moment. Well done to all the team at James Cook.