Bike heart monitor saves life of 'very lucky' Edinburgh GP

He was not aware of the problem.

By Elsa Maishman
Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 7:30 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 12:08 pm
Tommy Hepburn
Tommy Hepburn

An Edinburgh GP has told how a heart monitor attached to his bike saved his life when it picked up an issue he was not aware of.

Tommy Hepburn, 61, had retired from working as a GP in Edinburgh and was looking forward to making the most of his free time with hiking, skiing and cycling.

The keen cyclist was training for a series of bike rides when a heart rate monitor attached to his bike picked up something that wasn’t right.

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Dr Hepburn went to see his own GP, followed by a referral to cardiologist Dave Newby at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and was diagnosed with heart valve disease.

He had an aneurysm in the aortic root which needed to be treated as soon as possible.

But like many patients with heart valve disease Dr Hepburn had not had any obvious symptoms and had no idea of his condition.

Professor Newby also spotted a bicuspid aortic valve which was slightly calcified, so this was also replaced when treating the aneurysm.

Dr Hepburn said he feels very lucky that the bike heart monitor flagged up the problem, potentially saving his life.

“As a GP I was aware of heart valve disease but had not suspected the disease was going to threaten my life until a bike heart monitor recognised a potential problem,” he said.

"As someone who has experienced heart valve disease, I feel very lucky that I found out in time to have the brilliant treatment that has allowed me to continue with my active lifestyle cycling, hillwalking, kayaking and skiing.

"I feel that my story shows that, with early diagnosis and proper treatment, these conditions shouldn’t hold you back.”

Dr Hepburn has not let the disease slow him down, and has cycled over 4,000 miles this year. He has visited several countries during his retirement and enjoys regular hiking around Scotland.

He now wants to raise awareness of heart valve disease so that others can get treatment as early as possible.

“As heart valve disease is common and often associated with ageing, better awareness of the condition among over 60s could help early detection and timely management to allow patients to regain their life,” he said.

Data released this week shows that 99 percent of older people in Edinburgh have not heard of severe aortic stenosis, the most common form of heart valve disease.

More than half of patients diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis die within two years of developing symptoms.

Early detection is crucial, and can be achieved by listening to the heart with a stethoscope.

But the data, from the European Heart Health Survey 2019, also shows that just 5.6 percent of patients in Edinburgh get a stethoscope check during every visit to the GP.

In response to the findings charity Heart Valve Voice are calling for annual stethoscope checks for everyone over 65.

Wil Woan of Heart Valve Voice said: “With many over 65s missing out on GP appointments this year due to delays or fears of contracting Covid-19, annual stethoscope checks moving forwards could really help the early detection of this common condition.

"If diagnosed and treated early patients, the vast majority of patients return to a good quality of life.”

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