A sudden bout of food poisoning was enough to turn a long-standing heart condition into a life-threatening emergency for one Antiguan businessman.
Two years later, Chef’s World owner Julian Waterer is welcoming the launch of a national Heart and Stroke Foundation which aims to alert people to the symptoms of one of Antigua and Barbuda’s biggest killers.
Waterer is one of the lucky ones. Heart disease claims the lives of many local residents a year – and, say experts, in nine out of 10 cases, it’s preventable.
Waterer was 64 when severe vomiting and diarrhoea in April 2018 exacerbated a ‘leaky valve’ in his heart, otherwise known as a mitral valve prolapse.
He was eventually flown to Miami by air ambulance for surgery. Further problems five months later saw him fitted with a pacemaker.
Today he is a staunch advocate of the need to inform people of the risk factors of heart disease – and how to avoid becoming a victim.
“It’s extremely important to be alert to the signs your body gives you, such as little fainting spells. It you feel anything unusual at all, don’t delay, get it checked out immediately,” Waterer said.
“I fully back the launch of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. It fills a vital need in the community,” he added.
The Foundation – which officially launches on February 3 under the theme ‘mind your heart’ – will also act as a voice and support system for patients and their families, raise funds, stage community events and conduct local research into the prevalence of heart disease and stroke.
Its board is comprised of consultant cardiologist Dr Georgette Meade, GP Dr Rasheda Williams, businessman Vijay Tewani, wellness coordinator Sumita Balooja and Valerie Gonsalves-Barreiro.
“Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death globally and the same is noted in Antigua and Barbuda,” explained Dr Meade.
“It affects both our young and elderly citizens. Some of my youngest patients are in their 30s and 40s – and they are dying at these young ages.
“I am very concerned that most persons are not aware that up to 90 per cent of cardiovascular diseases are preventable.”
More than 600 people who entered the MSJMC emergency room in 2018 were within the heart attack spectrum, Dr Meade continued.
Poor diet, especially eating too much fried food, is the biggest risk to one’s heart, she said, along with diabetes, smoking, hypertension and being overweight and obese.
People from African and Indian descent also face a greater risk, while having diabetes increases one’s chance of a heart attack by up to three times.
Typical signs of a heart attack in men is chest pain, sometimes described as “the feeling of an elephant sitting on your chest”, occasionally radiating to the arm or jaw, Dr Meade explained.
“A lot of women are misdiagnosed because they don’t have that pain. Women may have palpitations, heartburn, vomiting, shortness of breath, nausea and feel clammy,” she said.
Dr Meade hopes the Foundation will act as a springboard to attract more advanced investigations and treatment into Antigua enabling earlier detection of heart complications. Many deaths could be prevented if emergency coronary angiogram and stent placement were available in Antigua, she said.
The group will also be doing a series of media appearances covering everything from nutrition to stress management.
Dr Meade added: “We need to act urgently to reduce the risk factors and the prevalence of heart disease in Antigua and Barbuda or our economy and hospitals won’t be able to cope with the burden in the future.”