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Issue No. 399 February 2016

Back from the brink

Senior Sergeant John Bleackley has resumed his life after a devastating illness and two five-hour sessions of open-heart surgery.

In January 2014 things were looking good for Senior Sergeant John Bleackley, a 46-year-old family man who was fighting fit after 17 years as a dog handler - including AOS service – and had just left the Dog Section for promotion.

However everything was about to change.

Now, two years after being brought back from the brink, John is sharing his story to support the Heart Foundation’s awareness and fundraising drive this month.

John, then Waitemata District Field Learning and Development Manager, was alone at home on 28 January 2014 when he felt searing chest pain and passed out.

He came round 20 minutes later and phoned for help, and was taken by ambulance to North Shore Hospital.

There doctors diagnosed an ascending aortic dissection - a tear in the aorta wall which affects two in 100,000 people.

He was transferred to Auckland Hospital where, two hours after collapsing, he was undergoing a five-hour open-heart operation.

“They told me later only 50 percent of people make it past that stage,” he says.

He returned to work on limited hours ten weeks later. The problem was not fixed, however, and in June 2014 he had more open-heart surgery to replace the damaged section of aorta with a Dacron graft.

“Between operations I really struggled with what had happened. I was concerned about where I was going to end up, whether I would get back to ‘normal’.”

He feared his Police career and sporty lifestyle were over – but the second operation was a success and eight weeks later he was back at work. In March 2015 he persuaded his specialists to let him take the PCT, and passed.

“I have to manage my physical activity and there are some restrictions,” says John, now District Road Policing Coordinator. “But that hasn’t stopped me resuming my life. And I still play basketball.”

He says the experience has given him a new appreciation of family, friends and life generally.

He also appreciates the support he received from Police. “I can’t speak highly enough about that. Police really took the stress out of the financial side. I felt really supported all the way through.”

He acknowledges his medical team, including cardiologist Dr Ivor Gerber. “The Heart Foundation helped fund his training so I feel like living proof that donations save lives.”

Donate at the Heart Foundation website - www.heartfoundation.org.nz/donate

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