A trip to the hairdresser went horribly wrong for Heidi, but it ended up saving her life…

16 Apr 2024

When Heidi visited the hair salon two years ago she thought the biggest challenge ahead was embracing her grey hair.  She shares her story here:  

Instead of leaving the salon with new silver highlights, I left with scalp burns from the colouring formula, so severe I required skin grafts in hospital.  But what was the worst nightmare for the hairdresser - and for me –ironically set off a chain of events that would prove lifesaving…

In a follow up with my GP to check on the skin grafts, an irregular heartbeat was detected.  The doctor was very concerned and advised me to go to the hospital immediately.  I had to leave my car parked in the shopping mall and take an ambulance – it was such a shock and a scary and surreal experience to have my day unexpectedly take this turn. 

After tests such as a coronary angiogram, heart monitor, stress tests and many trips to emergency over the next few months, my cardiologist recommended surgery.  As we didn’t have private health insurance for heart related illness (often recommended not to, as heart related illness is not usually premeditated and would go through the emergency department for surgery), it meant I had to wait until I could be operated on in the public health system.  

While I waited for the green light, my Apple Watch kept an eye on things for me, often beeping letting me know that I was in atrial fibrillation, for, at times up to 24 hours. This was frightening for me and once in normal sinus rhythm I would be exhausted for the next 24hours.  

In June 2023 I underwent a procedure known as an Ablation to treat atrial fibrillation.  The procedure uses heat (radiofrequency waves) or freezing (cryoablation) to deactivate the part of the heart that’s creating or passing abnormal electrical signals.

I cannot praise Royal North Shore Hospital enough for the treatment I received – both in-patient and in the rehabilitation program which helped educate me about the condition and the changes I needed to make to improve my health.

In hindsight, I think I was living with the condition for at least 12 months prior to it being detected.  I had no family history of heart disease, so I became a bit complacent about recognising the combined triggers of age, stress and carrying extra weight.  

I am a carer by profession, yet I had failed to prioritise my own care.  I think as women, we tend not speak up and push through to ensure our family and household is not disrupted.

I’m now 54 and have since made some major changes to my lifestyle, cutting back on the number of days I work to reduce stress, and being vigilant with my walking routine. I’ve lost around 7kg and getting outdoors for a daily walk is a non-negotiable priority!

That’s why I’m really looking forward to doing Coastrek with my family.  They’ve been with me throughout this health journey, and they’ll be there with me hand in hand as we cross the finish line.  

Heidi (far right) pictured training for Coastrek with her family: