Anatomy of a Mountain Heart Attack
Giants Castle
Central Drakensberg
18 - 20 April 2014

Thanks to Dave Sclanders for permission to republish this, his personal story:


We had experienced 2 great days of hiking over the 18 – 19 April, and were going to head home on the 20th.. We had done a “high view recce” of our planned route home for the next day, but decided not to go down to the river, and then later to climb high again back to a path I knew , but to stay hi-high and follow any eland track that might be going our way, then follow our own instincts onwards. We were in “no man’s land”, exploring the un-know valleys of Giant’s Castle.

Sunday 20th May broke bright and clear, we packed out hiking kit and by 08h00 were on the way home.

Pics taken on 20th, earlier

Pics 2 – 6 The beauty, the vastness, and the isolation of the valleys. Plenty of water and waterfalls, and incredible scenery.

We dropped steeply to the valley floor, crossed a lively stream at an Eland crossing point, picked up an old Eland path, and set off on a great days exploration of a brand new area .

All went well until 11h15, when suddenly I felt very weak and vomity, and had to rest. We put it down to possibly some supper that may have been a bit off, and thought the weakness would pass. After a short rest, the vomiting increased, and I lost a lot of liquid – so now started to worry about dehydration as well.

11h30 – in the middle of Nowhere and without warning, I collapsed in a heap on the grass, as if shot, I had an icy feeling around my neck and shoulders, and absolutely no energy at all , yet still wanting to vomit. After a short rest, I staggered to my feet, feeling absolutely dreadful. My hiking sticks felt like two lead weights in my hands and I really contemplated throwing them away. The nightmare hike carried on, with me staggering some 200- 400 meters, and falling in a heap to the ground. Lying down, face in the grass gasping for breath and energy. Fortunately the Eland path was there, on a very flat contour, running around a steep hill to our right, but in the right direction. Dehydration was now the main fear. I could keep nothing down, and it was hot.

Eventually I could no longer carry my pack, there was no strength to even lift myself off the ground to try and walk. My companions took it in turn to carry my bag forward, and one would stay with me. Any slight climb was a nightmare, short walk, then collapse, rest get up, short walk and collapse. Then, Warwick twisted his ankle while carrying my bag and his. So it was now up to Dave to carry both bags. He went ahead as best he could, and Warwick stayed with me. All I remember was walking in a haze of dizziness and extreme tiredness, stomach rumbling and totally dehydrated. As soon as I took a sip of water, I would throw up. I was now collapsing more often, and I remember as I lay on the ground each time, saying to myself , “this cannot go on”, but knowing I had to, I would open my eyes, and saw Warwick standing between me and the sun to offer some protection from the sun.

We eventually reached the pat from Giants camp that leads day walkers to Worlds View, at least now we were in a hiking area, and someone should come pass. I remember lying collapsed in the path; hikers came past, walked around me, and carried on. I staggered on to reach where Dave was resting to tell him to carry on to the car with both packs, then come back to help. Just as I got near to him, I collapsed again, and just lay in the path, oblivious to anything, just wanting to lie forever. I had no strength, no energy and really not caring about anything. A small voice in my mind kept saying, get up, get to the car, you cannot lie here, time is getting on, you cannot let Dave and Warwick down”

Then the angel of mercy came to our aid, a group of hikes came past, saw the situation, and one lady offered to carry my bag to the car. So she and Dave took off to the car, with instructions to pack the bags into the car, and for Dave to come back down to the Bushman’s river bridge. What a help that was for me as I knew it would take a strain off Dave, and I could expect a helping hand for the steep climb from the river to the car.

Warwick and I eventually made the bridge and Dave was there, waiting. If ever there was a mountain to climb – bigger than Everest bigger than anything, this was the climb that I had dreaded from way back. To say it was difficult would be to tell a lie. I would walk a bit, and then collapse in a heap of total exhaustion. Lie there and not know how I would do the next 50 meters push myself to my feet, and try a few more steps. As always, as I lay on the ground, Warwick’s shadow was there, protecting me from the sun. The last steep steps were too much; Dave and Warwick picked me up and tried to carry me up the last 50 meters. Collapse, again was the name of the game. Dave had brought the car to the very top of the path, and I eventually staggered into the back seat, and collapsed. The hike was over. It had taken us from 11h30 to 15h30 to do about 7 km’s.

Back at home, Warwick and Dave, unpacked my kit, and they left for home. I showered, and feeling absolutely dreadful, phone my neighbor Keith and asked him to take me to the hospital. I booked in as an emergency case of food poisoning and dehydration. The usual blood pressure etc was taken and the necessary drips and drugs were administered. On Monday 21st April, all seemed well, and I could go home, however, I still felt terrible. More ECG’s, blood pressures, heart scan, and more blood taken. On Tuesday 22nd I was told all was fine, and I could go. On trying to get dressed, I was disorientated and felt I could not go. More blood tests taken and a wider network looked at, and on Wednesday 23rd in the morning the Doctor said that one of the markers for a heart condition indicated a bad heart infection. I was taken to St Anne’s hospital, where late on Wednesday evening and Angiogram was performed, and this showed a number of blocked arteries in the heart, and a Triple Bypass Heart operation

From being a non- smoker, cholesterol reading of 4, heart rate of below 50, and fairly fit, this came as a bit of a shock. However, family history does show a inherent heart problem.

Due to circumstance, I could only have the triple bypass operation on the 8th May, during the night the heart started doing its own thing, and on the evening of the 9th May a Heart Pacemaker had to be put in to control the heart rate.

Fortunately, due to being reasonably fit at my age, and being determined to get better fast, I have healed well. On Sunday the 8th of June I walked 11.2 kilometers.

A lesson for others, and something that helped delay my diagnosis was the constant question that I was asked by all the doctors – was “did I have any pain when I collapsed. The answer was always no , it was only some days later that I heard someone in the ward talking about heart attacks, and that pain in the chest and arms is not the only indication of an attack. My attack started with and intense cold feeling around my neck – like one had suddenly had wrapped an ice block around my neck, and my shoulders had severe pain and no strength for a long time. When discussing this with the surgeon, he said, there are many symptoms that can indicate a heart attack, but pain in the chest and arms is the more usual one.

To Dave and Warwick, for all you did for me on 20th April, I will never forget. Your patience and understanding and help over those hours (when we thought I was suffering from food poisoning and dehydration) just show what wonderfull people you are. I wonder how we would all have reacted had we known at 11h30 on that fateful morning, that it was a heart attack ?????????

To Claire, the great Samaritan of the berg, who offered to carry a total stranger’s backpack to the cars, some kilometers away when we were in serious trouble. Who also, has been in contact with me to see how things have progress. You are a very special person indeed. As already discussed, Dave, Warwick and myself look very much forward to hiking with you in the berg in the not so distant future. To my friends at home who have fetched and carried me to hospital on several occasions, who have taken me back for check-ups, and shopping. To my hiking friends who came to visit in hospital and to hold me in their thoughts and prayers. To my family who came from London and afar to be at my bedside, how can I thank you all.

What I do know is that I have been given another life, another chance, and it is up to me to use it wisely and well.

My aim is to be back in the Berg by the end of winter