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Chris Wambuno: My life choices led to a heart attack at just 28

Chris Wambuno with his daughter Milana Wambuno and wife Joyce Maingi at their home in Bamburi Mombasa

Chris Wambuno with his daughter Milana Wambuno and wife Joyce Maingi at their home in Bamburi Mombasa

Nothing about his hectic schedule seemed odd to 28 year old father of one.

For Chris Wambuno, the hustle and bustle he engaged in daily was part of what it took to make ends meet and feed his family.

That is why, what happened that night came as a shock to him and his 26 year old wife Joyce Wambuno.

On the night of October 8, last year, Chris collapsed and was rushed  to hospital. He was feverish, sweating and breathing profusely. According to doctors, he had just experienced a heart attack.

More shocking was the fact that neither he, nor members of his family, had a history of cardiac problems.

The heart attack, doctors told him, could have been fatal had he not reached the hospital quicker.

Chris, who is a radio presenter and producer by profession at a local radio station in Mombasa, almost died on the same day is only child, Milana Wambuno was born.

As he narrates the happenings of that night, it is clear that it was an experience who would never wish to relive.

Earlier on that day, Chris and his wife Joyce, a creative director at a school in Mombasa, left work early to shop  for their daughters birthday party scheduled for the following day.

Being first time parents, they were both excited and happily looking forward to a fun-filled day shared with relatives and friends.

By 9pm they were back home where they had a late supper before putting the baby to bed. They said their prayers and his wife, who normally sleeps no later than 10pm, went to bed shortly afterwards.

SUDDEN SHARP PAIN

He on the contrary, as he narrates in his own words, ‘remained awake as usual as he had some things to do’.

“I used to like staying up late enjoying my ‘me time’ you know…  unwind from work a little, maybe watch a series or movie. I watched a movie and then went to bed at around 12.30am,” he says.

Chris woke up at 2am to go to the washroom. His daughter Milana had just woken up and was being breastfed by his wife.

“There was an electrical blackout at the time. It was while in the washroom that I felt a sudden sharp pain in my heart which also started thumping faster than I ever felt before. I can hardly recall what happened next,” he recalls.

When he gained consciousness moments later, he found himself, slumped on the floor and across the toilet seat, trembling with his heart still beating fast and blood oozing from a cut on his neck.

In pitch darkness and confused at how he arrived at that position, he groggily opened his eyes. He figured that he might have fainted, and in the process,  hit his head on the toilet seat where he cut and injured his neck.

Chris Wambuno, 28 who suffered a heart attack.

Chris Wambuno, 28 who suffered a heart attack.

Slowly, he rose up and sluggishly dragged himself to the bedroom where he threw himself on the bed. His rough movements as he came to the room and rapid breathing surprised his wife who instantly sensed something was amiss.

The only light in the room was from the moonlight coming from the bedroom window and she hastily reached for the torch in the bedside table in order to have a clear view of him.

“What I saw after lighting the torch nearly threw me off balance! I noticed he was bleeding profusely from his neck and a lot of blood was also trickling from his neck onto our bed sheets. When Chris went to the washroom, I heard a few loud thuds But I said to myself: ‘Aah! This guy has missed the door’,” says Joyce. She continued breastfeeding the baby as she listened to her husband’s steps.

“It was dead quiet for about 15 seconds. Then some shuffling noise and then he reappeared and just flopped himself on the bed. I asked him if everything was alright he just said ‘Yes’ but kept saying his heart was beating extraordinarily fast,” recalls Joyce.

Feeling a sense of growing panic, Joyce placed her palm on his chest but immediately yanked it away .

“It felt odd! It was beating weirdly…” she continues, her voice trails off as she recalls the memory.

His heartbeat was erratic and even without medical training, Joyce knew that she had to get her husband to a hospital at once.

At this point, Chris was drifting on and off as she asked questions to try and gauge how he felt.

EMERGENCY MEASURES

She quickly reached for her mobile phone and called their neighbours and friends, Martin and Faith. The couple owned a car and would be able to help rush him to hospital. By the time they arrived, his condition had started deteriorating and they tried to hurriedly dress him for the hospital.

“Chris began to lose consciousness. He could not even walk and had to be carried to the car. There was so no time to put some shoes on him,” says Joyce.  All she could do was mutter prayers as they drove to the hospital.

When they arrived at the AAR health center, about 15 minutes’ drive from their home, the doctors swung into action and begun administering emergency treatment.

Joyce says that by then, Chris was  mumbling incoherently  between gasps for breath: “Kwani Mungu ananichukua on my babys birthday (You mean God is taking me on my daughter’s birthday),” he would say.

The doctors asked Chris one question after another seeking to establish how he was feeling, what job he did for a living, the pressures the job had, what time he slept, when he wakes up, if he takes alcohol or any drug. they also kept cracking jokes to ease his mood and keep him conscious.

They stitched the cut on his neck and administered a tetanus jab on him.

They then informed the couple that they would perform an Electrocardiogram (ECG), which is a test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of one’s heart to establish the root cause.

They did the ECG and the result was ‘abnormal’.

The doctors advised urgent medical treatment. “They also wanted to know if would be comfortable if Chris was admitted at the facility or if they had another hospital where they would prefer,” says Joyce.

Breaking the news

“I was shocked when the doctors called me aside and told me that my husband had just suffered a cardiac arrest or in layman’s terms — a heart attack and that he would have to be admitted”  Joyce says.

It was 5am when they arrived at Aga Khan Hospital Mombasa where they had decided to take him to be admitted.

At Aga Khan, doctors performed tests on Chris as they consistently checked his blood pressure which they found to be quite high,

“They checked the rate  of his heart beat, if his heart is positioned well, the valves, among numerous other tests,” says Joyce.

Consultant Cardiologist at Aga Khan hospital Mombasa, Dr Nabil Chaundhry, who tended to Chris, became the second doctor after AAR medics to confirm that he indeed suffered a heart attack.

“That second confirmation was very shocking, scary and devastating moment for me. I did not remember Chris being sick or anything of the sort. We were fine. We slept well and I kept asking myself over and over again where the heart attack came from,” she said.

They said that they will use the time of the admission to stabilise her husband and closely monitor his recovery to ensure his heartbeat went back to normal. Mr Wambuno’s heart regained its normalcy and he was discharged from hospital two days later with strict instructions to completely rest for a week, ease on the work pressures and eat healthy.

They linked the cardiac arrest to his lifestyle which they said was excessively busy and stressful

Chris couldn’t agree more.

“For the past eight years, I have been sleeping at 12am and waking up even at by 2am to make it for the breakfast show which I presents,” he says.

He adds that this has been his routine ever since he joined the radio industry and he never suspected that it would have a toll on his health.

In addition to sleeping late, his wife also remembers that he would regularly have three teaspoonful of coffee daily with additional teaspoonfuls of sugar.

“My husband loves coffee. He would take it all the time and he rarely slept. Sometimes, he would go to work at 2am  but sleep very late. He would also travel out of town on official duty from time to time only to return to work soon after without rest,” said Ms Wambuno who noted that he rarely rested when he had free time.

RISKY LIFESTYLES

The doctors advised Chris to reduce or stop his excessive coffee intake and change his lifestyle completely to one that includes, at the very the least, seven hours of sleep and plenty of rest.

Though he neither drinks or smokes, for Chris, the cardiac arrest was a wakeup call that he attributes to God.

He admits that he his pastor, Edward Munene of the International Christian Centre Church, Mombasa (ICCM) had warned him of risky lifestyle practices but he never imagined he would fall victim to the same circumstances.

“A few years back, pastor Munene told us about a CEO who was eating healthy, exercising but would sleep for just four hours. One day while in the office, he just stood up from his desk, suffered a heart attack and died. It was the first thing the pastor reminded me of when he visited me at the hospital,”  says Chris with a laugh.

Today, things have changed. Chris is usually in bed by 10pm, he eats healthy, exercises more and has stopped drinking coffee altogether.

As a matter of fact, he jokingly says, he suspects his wife threw away the jar of coffee. So far so good.

Nevertheless, doctors advised  monthly checkups and have cautioned him to consult them if he notices even the slightest pain in his body.

What life would have been like for his young wife and daughter had he died, is something he does not want to imagine or wish for anyone.

“Money or what I did for a living and the like did not matter to me at that time I was being taken to the hospital.

The only thing I could think of was my family and the disturbing way I could have left them. My baby and how she could have felt growing up and knowing her daddy died every year she had her birthday and my dear wife. I mean, we are both still young we have barely been married for four years,” he says.

His advice to the public and especially to those who pursue unhealthy and high pressure lifestyles as a result of work is that, life is too short and we are never really in control of our bodies no matter what we think.

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HOW TO AVOID HEART ATTACKS  

HATWith today’s fast-paced lifestyle leading to stress, an unhealthy diet, lack of rest and exercise, more young people are at risk of cardiac arrest than ever before. PHOTO | FILE

According to consultant cardiologists at Aga Khan hospital Mombasa, Dr Nabil Chaundhry, Chris Wambuno’s case was an example of lifestyle illnesses that plagues today’s in the society.

He says that 90 per cent of the patients he treats now are between the ages of 20 to 40 years and have developed non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure, stroke, high cholesterol and heart diseases.

Such illnesses, he noted are likely to be prevalent in todays fast paced world and are caused by unhealthy lifestyle practices such as working for long hours without rest and living a sedentary lifestyle.

TARGET ORGANS

A poor diet rich in fats and sugars, lack of adequate sleep, excessive alcohol intake, smoking cigarettes and lack of exercise are also major contributing factors.

Dr Chaundhry says non communicable diseases (NCDs) are no longer  the preserve of the older people and unhealthy practices such as consumption of fast foods are synonymous with young people.

“NCDs are going to become prevalent in younger people because majority of them have pursue a busy lifestyle and rarely have time to eat a consistent balanced diet,” states Dr Chaundhry.

However, he clarifies that some NCDs are genetic and that people who have a family history of diabetes for instance, are likely to suffer the same even if they practice a healthy lifestyle.

Heart attacks, he says, happen as result of consequences brought by NCDs. Diabetes, high blood pressures and the like play a role in narrowing arteries of what he termed as the ‘target organs of the body’ namely, eyes, brain, the kidneys, the heart with cholesterol deposits within them and resulting to heart failure.

“The diameter of the artery to the back of the eyes, the brain, the kidney and the heart all start narrowing. Any narrowing that is more than 70 per cent starts causing symptoms.

When the heart beats, it’s demanding oxygen and nutrients which is supplied by blood that flows through the arteries. When one has a narrowed artery perpetrated by an active body without rest, the heart rate increases in demand for more oxygen and nutrients,” he explains.

That is the point one has what he scientifically called an ‘Angina’ which means discomfort or sharp pain in specific areas of the body be chest, back, arms, jaw and when one rests, the pain stops and one has what he explained is  ‘a stable angina’.

If one ignores these symptoms and continues with the poor lifestyle, the arteries get narrower and one begins to get ‘Angina’ even while at rest such as sleeping.

Because of the narrow diameter of the artery and continuous demand for oxygen from the blood, the arteries then begin having fractures which results to blood clot in the fractured area which in turn completely blocks the artery.

Due to a diminished supply of oxygen through the blood that was flowing through the artery, the heart muscles thereafter start becoming weak. This results to a lot of abnormal electrical activity such as heart beating unusually fast or even missing a beat.

What follows is gasping for breath, sweat and fever and if one rushed to hospital immediately to unblock the artery, death.

WARNING SIGNS

“Sleep is an important aspect of a human body because it relaxes the entire body in preparation for another day. For the heart to rest it has to slow down and it does so when one is asleep. The heart muscles also rest during this time,” the doctor said.

Exercise is equally important for stretching the body muscles and burning excess calories that clog the arteries.

He adds that human beings are recommended to take 10,000 steps in a day from the time awake to the time of sleep as a form of exercise.

To avoid lifestyle diseases, he advises one to eat a balanced diet less in cholesterol, have plenty of rest avoid habits such as taking drugs, smoking, excessive alcohol, coffee and tea which are stimulants.

“If you feel lethargic, low energy, can’t relax very well, vision is not alright, you get up at night to urinate a lot are all signs that something is wrong. You probably could be developing high blood pressure or diabetes,” he says. He advises people who have such symptoms to visit the hospital for a thorough check up.

Dr Chaudhry also urges employers to assist their employees in cultivating a healthy lifestyle by allowing them to have frequent breaks for resting, time for leave, providing healthy food at work and creating a non-smoking environment.

 

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