While going through his medical checks to renew his license to continue to drive the fire appliance, doctors came across what they thought was a murmur on Mark Quick’s heart. Further tests revealed the Devon and Somerset firefighter had a problem with his aortic valve, which, if left, would almost certainly have resulted in heart failure.
“It is crazy to think that it’s only because of my career as a firefighter that this was picked up,” says Mark. “Just because I had to renew my license, it saved my life, as I was 18 months away from major problems.”
Mark had no idea how seriously ill he was, and just blamed his symptoms on being overworked: “Any fatigue or aches and pains I’d been feeling I’d just put down to getting older and working a lot of hours, but it wasn’t,” he says. “I had blood leaking where it shouldn’t have been, so my circulation was poor because not enough oxygenated blood was getting round my body.”
Having discovered this, doctors monitored his condition for a few years, and then last autumn, decided it was time to operate. In October last year, Mark underwent open heart surgery, where a pigs aortic valve replaced his own.
“Before my operation, I watched the procedure on YouTube twice, because I wanted to know what was going to happen to me,” he says. “I take my hat off to those surgeons. I was dead during the operation; they literally stopped my heart so they could work on it and kept my blood pumping through a machine. Then once they were done, they turned the blood flow back on and my heart kicks back in, and I’m back again.”
Having been supported by The Fire Fighters Charity earlier in his career with a knee injury, Mark knew they would be able to help him regain his fitness and get back to work.
“I knew how beneficial it would be to me, as my fitness levels had seriously dropped before and after the operation. They made it very clear I couldn’t come until my consultant had signed me off, but as soon as he did, I put in my application, and a few weeks later, I was making my way to Harcombe House.”
The team at our residential centre in Devon kept a close eye on Mark, advising him not to push himself beyond his own limits.
“There was a wall chart in the gym that showed the effort scale, and I wasn’t allowed to exceed 14 out of 20 for effort,” he says. “They were initially concerned about me going for walks in the hilly estate, but as I’d been signed off as cardiac healthy, I wanted to give it a go. I was a bit puffed out on the big hills, but once I’d got my wind back I was fine. Nothing stopped me doing anything, other than working at a sensible level.”
Mark surprised himself at how quickly he saw results during his week, getting tasks done quicker and able to see definite progress in his efforts to complete his ‘gym specific’ exercises, personalised for his recovery.
“My fitness was nigh on nothing when I went there, and I was aware of that, so chose time in the gym over workshops or psychological support, which is why I saw results,” he says. “I know the impact that my condition could have had on my mental health, but I was lucky to have been very supported by my family during my operation. Apart from a worry about being there to see my two daughters get married and graduate, I’d stayed quite positive throughout.”
Mark says his fellow beneficiaries played a huge role in his recovery as well: “We all gelled as a team and everyone really got on. We had a very diverse mix of serving and retired firefighters, a retired assistant chief, partners, Charity staff and two inclusion managers from two different brigades. It felt really inclusive, so conversations were really eye-opening and everyone learned from and shared with each other. When it came to leaving, it felt like we’d all really bonded. It was just such a positive experience. I can’t thank the Charity enough.”
Are you facing a life-changing health diagnosis and are worried about regaining your fitness afterwards? Or do you need support adjusting to life after an operation? Let us see if we can help. Get in touch today by phoning 0800 389 8820 or via our online form.