FINANCIAL lawyer Ricky Brown was enjoying a high-flying career in New York when his life suddenly fell apart.
First his contract ended. Then at the age of just 38, he suffered a stroke. “I lost my job and two days later my brain exploded,” he said.
Ricky had been diagnosed with high blood pressure in his 20s and the possibility of a heart attack sometimes flitted through his mind because his father had suffered two and undergone a triple bypass.
But he said: “A stroke never occurred to me.”
Alarming figures released today by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) show nine out of ten people with coronary heart disease in Scotland are living with at least one other long-term condition such as stroke or dementia.
The charity says heart disease, stroke, vascular dementia and diabetes are all connected. It warns the growing number of people living with inter-related health conditions represents a grave challenge for a health system focused on treating individual illnesses and says more research is needed into the links between them and how they can be treated.
Ricky, who had left Edinburgh to go to the US to do a law masters, is now back living in Comely Bank with American wife Beth and their young son. He said when he suffered the stroke he was lucky that he lived only a few blocks from a full-service hospital. “They were able to keep me alive,” he said. “After several weeks in hospital I returned home with a sturdy walking stick and a walking frame.
“I had to learn to walk again, but with rehabilitation and hard work on my part at physical therapy, I recovered and to look at me now you wouldn’t believe I’d had a stroke.”
Ricky, now 43, said his left side was weaker and he tired easily, “but it has become the new normal”. “I don’t really think about it too much,” he said.
The BHF said 25 per cent of heart patients have diabetes, 15 per cent have had a stroke and five per cent have dementia.
Ricky said: “These statistics reflect my personal and family experience and serve as a reminder to anyone living with a heart condition to take an active role in monitoring their health.”
BHF chief executive Simon Gillespie said there had been huge progress in improving survival rates for single conditions like heart attacks, but today’s figures pointed to an urgent challenge.
“Increasing numbers of people are surviving heart attacks, but going on to suffer strokes or live with additional conditions which limit their quality of life, increase their risk of dying and will place increasing pressure on the health and care system,” he said.
“We can only reverse this trend by funding more research into all conditions of the heart and circulatory system, with a focus on how they can be treated together. This type of research is currently chronically under-funded but, with more support, we can fund innovative approaches to tackle these conditions head on. This could ensure millions of people don’t have to spend years of their life suffering.”