HAVING a heart attack is a terrifying experience – and one many fail to survive. But a new programme at Colchester General Hospital is helping cardiac patients come to terms with their condition – and in the process, is keeping more of them alive.

The hospital’s new Heart Failure Programme has certainly made a difference for George Nicolaides, 71, a retired electronics engineer from Jaywick.

Earlier this year, he had a heart attack while shopping at Clacton Market.

He said: “I was one of those people who never went to the doctor for anything. Then I just collapsed, completely out of the blue.

“I’d been fit and healthy all my life and then this. It was a real blow.

“My heart just stopped and the damage was done.”

For 50 days, Cyprus-born Mr Nicolaides stayed in hospital for tests, some in Colchester and some at a specialist unit in London.

He added: “I was hoping they would find out my heart would start working properly again.

“They said I had three blockages and a leaky valve, all of which could be fixed, but without the heart working, it’s no good.

“I compare it to having a whole new set of pipes in a house, without a proper pump to keep it operating normally.”

A recent NHS report suggested almost 5,000 lives a year could be saved if all victims of heart failure were given the kind of high-quality specialist care Mr Nicolaides is now getting.

The National Heart Failure Audit points out 32 per cent of heart failure patients die within a year of being admitted to hospital. The death rate among those seen by a cardiologist or treated by specialist heart failure services is 23 per cent, the report adds.

Two weeks ago, Mr Nicolaides returned to hospital with heart complications and was immediately put on the Heart Failure Programme, which started in June.

He said: “It is a very frightening experience, so reassurance about my illness and the symptoms I need to look out for has been very important.

“This is not something which can be cured, but having the team of nurses talk to me about it helps.”

Karen Lake and her fellow cardiac nurse specialists Linda Keating, Julie Vialer, Cora Hughes and Judith Payne are based on Dedham Ward at the hospital, but also work in other departments.

Ms Lake said: “The idea was to identify individuals who could benefit from this specialist service – patients who, perhaps, had developed heart failure from another complication or illness.

“Some were being discharged and sent home, but now we go and have a chat with them about their condition.”

Education, is important, especially warning patients about things to look out for, such as prolonged shortness of breath, tiredness, lack of appetite and swelling. The team also advises on medication and after-care when they leave hospital.

She added: “An important part of the programme is to liaise with other departments in the hospital and to make them aware of this new service.

“This is something extra to our normal cardiac roles, but it has been well worth it. Since starting, we have, on average, seen 20 patients a month but it has been as high as 45.”