What I Thought Was A Lack Of Fitness Was A Heart Attack Waiting To Happen

07 Aug 2023

It was on a trip with her family hiking the Abel Tasman Track that Carolyn Visser found herself struggling for breath and had to offload her pack for others to carry.  Initially, she thought it was due to a lack of fitness but a trip to her doctor highlighted a potentially fatal condition. 

After a heart health check, and a discussion about family history and lifestyle, her doctor then sent her for a coronary calcium scan, given both her parents had died of ischemic heart disease.   

“My dad was a smoker and my mum’s diet wasn’t great. I don’t smoke and I eat relatively well, so I really thought I was in the clear. When the doctor showed me pictures of my arteries I was shocked, I honestly thought she had me mixed up with someone else.” 

A calcium reading of zero to 100 is regarded as normal, 101 to 400 is a moderate risk, and anything above 401 is high risk. Visser’s reading was an astounding 2581.  

“My doctor told me I was at critical risk of having a heart attack. She said it was the worst case she’s ever seen,” she recalled. 

A follow-up angioplasty revealed multiple blockages, including a long and almost complete blockage in a major artery. She had two stents inserted to open one artery, but the smaller blood vessels were too small to be reopened. 

Now, Visser is on medication and back to doing the things she loves.  An avid hiker, she recently trekked Karijini National Park – fatigue free and able to carry her pack with no problems this time!  

When Carolyn was approached to become a Coastrek Ambassador she jumped at the chance.   

“This opportunity combines two things I’m passionate about, hiking in the outdoors and building awareness about heart disease – I was more than happy to be involved, and I’m so looking forward to trekking part of the Cape to Cape track in the Margaret River region.” 

“I’m fortunate to have been gifted an extension of this wonderful life, due to my amazing GP discovering I had severe heart disease in 2018.  I’m passionate about alerting others in our community who may have the same issues and be unaware of it. Raising awareness, and staying fit and active by doing something like Coastrek, while supporting The Heart Foundation is a brilliant way to do this.” 

It will be a family affair for Carolyn who will be joined by her three daughters for the Coastrek challenge who are equally excited about joining their mother on the Cape to Cape, which is reflected in their team name – ‘The Capers’. 

“They are acutely aware of the need to be vigilant about their heart health now and are on the journey with me to live an active lifestyle and share my story with others. We are really enjoying training together and can’t wait for event day!”