Imraan survives heart attack, urges everyone to take their health screening seriously
When driving home along the N1 in Johannesburg on Friday, 4 December 2020, Imraan experienced what had first felt like "a crampy, windy feeling in my gut" suddenly turn to "incredible pain and discomfort across my entire body". Little did he know at the time that he was experiencing signs of a pending, serious heart attack.
"A heart attack proper"
"I thought, 'Just let me get home', so I held on for another 20 minutes, driving very slowly and parked in our driveway - badly - and went in to lie down on the couch," he recalls.
Imraan is a fit and healthy 53-year-old based in Johannesburg.
From that moment he got home, a fortuitous confluence of events led to Imraan getting fast, appropriate medical care. It was while receiving care that he suffered "a heart-attack proper", as he says. This led to triple bypass heart surgery a week later.
Watch Nikash and Imraan's story here
"All l wanted was a pain pill or an antacid and to lie down, but my daughter wasn't budging"
Had his medical doctor daughter not been at home - she insisted on getting him to a nearby hospital - and had his medical colleagues not advocated for triple bypass surgery instead of his preference for stents (split placed into a blood vessel to aid healing or relieve an obstruction), he may well not have been alive today.
"All l wanted was a pain pill or an antacid and to lie down, but my daughter wasn't budging. She also sped up the waiting process by being assertive with the staff," he chuckles.
Imraan has a heart attack during his medical assessment
"When the doctor who was monitoring the ECG [electrocardiogram] with my daughter said to me: 'You're having a heart attack right now on this table - and not just a small one,' I got a real shock. It didn't even cross my mind that this might happen earlier while we were sitting impatiently in a cold, dark COVID-19 screening-area tent," he says.
The doctor told Imraan that had he tried to tough it out at home over the weekend, there may have been damage to his heart muscle, leaving him permanently impaired - or dead.
"As it was, they gave me some blood-thinning agents and I immediately felt better. Once I stabilised, they took me by ambulance from the Netcare Mulbarton Hospital to the isolation high care unit at Netcare Union Hospital in Alberton where a specialist cardiologist could look after me," he recalls.
"I never thought of myself as a heart-attack candidate"
Two ECGs confirmed triple artery blockages. Yet Imraan was reluctant to undergo treatment. He was tortured by indecision while lying in the specialist-attended hospital that weekend. In a way, his response mirrors what some surveys have revealed about how many South African men put off seeking healthcare when they need it, or going for preventive screening.
Simply put, Imraan was in denial about his symptoms. Also, he was irritated and initially dismissive of his diagnosis because he was so fit and healthy. Imraan walked up to 16 kilometres a week. He has type 2 diabetes, which is a well-known risk factor for heart disease. However, his condition was well controlled because he was 'impeccable' about his diet and sugar intake. Besides which, he was (and remains) the Chief Pharmacist at the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology in Houghton.
"I think a lot of my non-acceptance was because I never thought of myself as a heart-attack candidate, but I soon got over the shock and got to grips with the reality. I shudder to think what the average South African, who is without even my little bit of healthcare knowledge, would suffer after experiencing my symptoms. I could have ended up with 40% damage to my heart muscle and needing a heart transplant," he sighs in relief.
"I never had to wait for authorisation or worry about how I was going to pay for the care I needed"
Imraan chatted to leadership at the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology and got advice that bypass surgery had better outcomes than stents. "So, by the Monday, a week before my eventual op, my indecision was gone," he adds.
Imraan is glowing about the support provided by his Discovery Classic Priority Plan that covered his hospitalisation, all procedures, his short-lived but necessary kidney dialysis, and all follow-up care.
"I never had to wait for authorisation or worry about how I was going to pay for the care I needed. It really eased the burden of my recovery - which wasn't a walk in the park - but I had no outside financial stress," he says.
"I'm not proving anything to anyone by believing I'm healthy, am I?"
Imraan's last full check-up before his heart attack was in November 2019. Warning signs of his pending December 2020 heart attack could possibly have been detected if he'd had an earlier screening in 2020.
Of course, Imraan is now a firm advocate of regular preventative screening that can catch any developing healthcare issues early on.
"There's no benefit in being stubborn. I'm not proving anything to anyone by believing I'm healthy, am I? My advice to everyone out there is: Don't ignore any kind of check-up you're due for! Rather just do it and take the meds they give you".