Ask us anything - Dr Sue Ling Ching: Cardiac

An Apollo Bay GP has used World Heart Day to urge people to get a check-up, after his life was potentially saved thanks to a child’s birthday party.

Dr Terence Heng, a 46 year-old, considered himself to be fairly fit through regular running and bike riding.

In March, Dr Heng was riding his bike home when his wife asked him to bring home a 1.5kg box of blueberries. Dr Heng tucked the blueberries under his arm and rode home.

“I developed some left-sided chest pain but didn’t think much of it given I am young and had very few risk factors,” Dr Heng said.

“But I always advise my patients to get checked, so decided I should book in for a stress test in a couple of weeks to make sure everything was okay.”

A week or so before the stress test, Dr Heng was in Melbourne visiting long-time friend, Epworth Eastern cardiologist Dr Sue-Ling Ching, for her daughter’s birthday.

“At the party, Sue-Ling started asking me some questions about the pain I experienced. She became very concerned and strongly suggested I should have a CT coronary angiogram while I was in Melbourne, rather than wait another week for the heart stress test.”

Dr Ching said she felt strongly about getting things checked as soon as possible and after multiple protestations by Terence, he finally heeded his wife and Dr Ching’s advice.

“Terence had symptoms at minimal exertion which sounded suspicious for significant coronary artery disease” Dr Ching said.

Through the help of their mutual radiology colleague - Dr Anthony Upton, an urgent CT coronary angiogram was arranged for the Monday morning.

As soon as the CT was done, Dr Heng was informed he had severe coronary artery blockages and should go straight to hospital.

“My first reaction was I thought everyone was pulling my leg. I couldn’t believe it. But, when I saw the results, I didn’t know how I had made it this far without having a significant cardiac event.”

Dr Ching notes, “Retrospectively, given the anatomy of Terence’s angiogram and escalating symptoms, he was at risk of a heart attack or cardiac arrest.”

Cardiologist Dr Michael Rowe arranged another cardiac scan and Dr Heng was subsequently referred to Epworth Eastern cardiac surgeon Dr Michael Yii for bypass surgery, due to severe coronary artery blockages caused by coronary disease.

“I am lucky I had people who encouraged me to get checked sooner. I didn’t think I had a cardiac problem. Had I gone to the stress test, I planned to give it my best shot and run as hard as I could. I wanted to prove there wasn’t an issue and the earlier pain was just a stitch, caused by carrying the blueberries home on my bike,” Dr Heng said.

“Had I run really hard during the stress test, I may have suffered a fatal cardiac arrythmia.”

Dr Heng said the lesson is clear:

Don’t delay getting checked and don’t think it can’t happen to you. It can happen to anyone.

Terence has now almost fully recovered and continues to lead an active and busy life leading the medical team down at Great Ocean Road Health, Apollo Bay. “It takes a whole village of people to support someone who has gone through major cardiac surgery and I’m so grateful for all my colleagues and friends who have supported me through this ordeal”.

In the latest episode of “Ask us anything. Cardiac”, Dr Ching answers questions about heart issues, including typical heart attack systems for men, heart attack symptoms for women, and when you should call an ambulance.


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