Renee Lyons and Gareth Harding
Nova Scotia Canada

Sept. 20, 2017

We’re two retired scientist old fogies from Nova Scotia, Canada, that love the walking opportunities in Britain. It’s fantastic to casually enjoy beautiful scenery and wildlife, while looking forward to a pub lunch and a nice place to stay, and all the while, meeting interesting characters along the route. It is especially sweet to have a local tour company plan your itinerary with you, arrange your B and B’s, and look after transporting your luggage to each overnight stop.

This April, 2017 we had organized our most adventurous walk yet – the Coast-to-Coast Path from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay and we worked with ‘Packhorse’, a local company out of Kirkby Stephen, to make it happen.

On April 27th we started our trek in high spirits. It was a gorgeous day. The coast walk north of St Bee’s was stunning, and we felt great.

Not more than two hours out of St. Bee’s, my partner Gareth started to experience severe back pain, which he self-diagnosed as a ‘pinched’ nerve or a pulled muscle. We stopped for a bit. A small group of walkers passed by and suggested he needed a back massage which one of the ladies proceeded to give him. The pain was not subsiding so I decided to seek help to get him to the nearest hospital at Whitehaven. Two very kind park employees drove us to a farm, where we called a taxi and within about 20 minutes we were at the West Cumberland Hospital.

The nurse practitioner in the Emergency Department quickly identified that Gareth was having a heart attack! This was an absolute shock to us both as he is very vigorous and healthy, and had experienced no symptoms until that morning. He was taken at high speed by ambulance to the Coronary Care Unit of the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, and was attended to immediately by the healthcare team lead by Dr. Madhu Varma.

After identifying that the issue was a blocked artery, Gareth received angioplasty to remove the blockage and to insert a stent. Dr. Varma repaired two arteries and after the procedure, told Gareth that he needed stents for two other arteries. The great news was that there wasn’t long-term damage to the heart muscle.

Gareth recovered for a week in hospital, waiting for the additional angioplasty. There was long list of patients to receive this procedure and he was no longer an emergency patient. The day after two additional stents were inserted (by Dr Thambi, under Dr. Varma’s supervision) Gareth was released from hospital.
You can’t take a commercial flight for a week or two after having had a heart attack and so we had to figure out what to do next. Friends kindly offered their homes for Gareth’s R and R, but we had another plan.

We left the hospital and were driven to Keld by Mark of Packhorse, who travelled from Kirkby Stephen, especially for us. So we had small walks the first couple of days and were taken by the Packhorse luggage van to our next B&B’. In other words, we had missed most of the Lake District part of the walk, and we now in the Yorkshire Dales.

Image of the walker - GarethAfter about 4 days, Gareth pronounced that we should try the 10-14 mile trek we had originally planned. He had to take it slow on the up-hills and we stopped to rest frequently, but we slowly completed the walk to Robin Hood’s Bay on foot before flying back to Canada.

The attention and care Gareth received from Dr. Varma and his team at the Cumberland Infirmary’s Coronary Care Unit in Carlisle was EXCEPTIONAL. Along with prompt and excellent clinical care by doctors, nurses, and others, every one of the hospital staff was very kind and people oriented.

Gareth also met many interesting patients with a great sense of humor, who made him feel welcome even though his presence as an emergency patient might have delayed their procedure.

From our experience, the Coronary Care Unit is an outstanding service. The NHS and people of Carlisle should be very proud of the quality care provided by the team!! Similar to Carlisle and environs, Nova Scotia depends on tourism as a major contributor to the economy of the region. We hope that any visitor here would be greeted with the same quality of care Gareth received in Carlisle.

The only observation we offer to improve this service is that more lab space may be needed to perform cardiac procedures, because the need (as a regional centre) far outstrips the lab space currently available.

We also want publicly acknowledge and thank Packhorse for going above and beyond to help us complete the walk.

Please note: We would not recommend our post cardiac adventures to anyone having experienced a cardiac event.

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