A BOROUGH man who escaped serious illness by making a simple visit to his doctor is campaigning to raise awareness of the dangers of heart valve disease.
Gerry Kijak first suspected something was wrong when struggling to reach the top of a hill while taking part in a playful race with his two daughters.
His suspicions proved to be near serious as Gerry was forced to have open heart surgery earlier this year after visiting a doctor five months after first struggling to breathe.
The 63-year-old finally decided to visit his local doctor for a check up where he later received the news that he needed heart surgery and a valve replacement.
His story comes after a survey revealed that 99 per cent of over 60s in Birmingham do not know what the most common heart valve disease – Aortic Stenosis – is.
Gerry is now hoping his experience can help convince people to check up on their health regularly and visit a doctor should anything be wrong.
Speaking to The Observer, the Earlswood resident said: “For me it all started 12 months ago – I was in perfect health and regularly walked four miles a day.
“I remember I used to race my two daughters up to the top of this hill in the Caribbean – and beat them on most occasions.
“However one day while away I felt really ill – I tried to walk up this hill the following day and couldn’t do it, things didn’t get better and I accepted that I caught something.
“Being a typical man I put off trying to find out what the problem was until May, five months after I first suspected something was wrong.”
After his suspicions, Gerry was sent to Queen Elizabeth hospital where he was told he had a leaking valve – which had to be replaced.
Gerry, who is working with Heart Valve Voice to raise awareness of Heart Valve Disease, said: “I was sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and two months later I needed a valve replacement.
“On top of everything else this was a hammer blow for myself – however they worked out to do heart surgery first and then radio therapy.
“My heart is now great and I’m being put through my paces in cardiac rehab.
“It’s only now I realise how bad I was, I’m feeling great now and I can confidently sail up the hill – my knees might not be up to scratch but my heart is good.”
Heart Valve Voice is a collection of people with real experiences of heart valve disease – including a multi-disciplinary group of experts in the field, cardiac patient societies and patients.
Since receiving the all-clear, Gerry has had his two daughters tested for heart problems – both receiving good news.
When questioned about his advice to others, the father-of-two said: “Don’t delay anything, you could be one simple test away from changing your life around.
“So many people die through ignorance – feeling ill isn’t a part of getting old.
“Being tested is scary, but it’s worth it and my main troubles were over with in four days.
“Talking to the media is one way I’m trying to raise awareness and I’m hoping to take part in events when I’m back from a break in France.”
Visit www.heartvalvevoice.com for further information about Heart Valve Voice.