Saturday 15 December 2018

'Medication and diet go hand in hand'

Thomas Bergin, at his home in Bray, Co Wicklow. Photo: Damien Eagers
Thomas Bergin, at his home in Bray, Co Wicklow. Photo: Damien Eagers

Arlene Harris

Thomas Bergin from Wicklow was just five years old when his father died as a result of heart disease aged 37.

Consequently, the 71-year-old, who is married to Jenifer and has four sons, suffered his first heart attack at around the same age before discovering that he had inherited the same heart problems and high cholesterol as his father - but thanks to medication and a good lifestyle, he is fit and well.

"When my father died, there was very little help or advice available to family members at risk of heart disease, so I didn't really think too much about it until I suffered two heart attacks in 1985," says Thomas.

"I was put on Aspirin (to thin my blood) and statins to reduce my cholesterol, which at the time had a reading of over six. Then four years later, after returning to Ireland from living in London, I was referred to a cardiologist who discovered that the three main arteries to my heart were blocked, so I was put on a waiting list for surgery and had a quadruple bypass eight months later.

"Having a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol meant that over the past few decades, I suffered several further cardiac arrests and a blood clot. But, thankfully, a combination of medication, exercise and a changed lifestyle reduced my cholesterol level significantly and I have led a positive and health-scare-free life since 2010.

"These changes included giving up smoking, taking up exercise and eating a really good diet. I used to be a chocoholic, so although I haven't given it up completely, I only have a bit every now and again. And I don't eat things like creamy sauces, pizzas or anything else like that - my diet is quite plain, which I think really helps.

"I also walk a lot, which I believe is the best exercise anyone can do - because it doesn't put stress on your joints and is mentally motivating, as well as being great for you physically.

"And this, along with a high dosage of statins, reduced my cholesterol levels to 4.1, which is a huge improvement - although my new consultant says I could get it down to 4, which doesn't seem like a big deal, but every little reduction makes a difference.

"I am definitely proof that cholesterol can be greatly reduced with a combination of medication and diet, which certainly go hand in hand.

"I get my levels checked every six months and I would encourage people to make sure they are checked every year or so as the symptoms aren't apparent otherwise, and so much can be done to reduce it if it's too high.

"I've been through a lot, but as far as high cholesterol is concerned, I think statins are the best invention ever - and I'm a living example of that."

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