Royal Papworth Hospital patient Henry Buswell takes on 170km cycling challenge while awaiting heart transplant
An intensive care patient being kept alive on a heart bypass machine is planning to cycle 170km on a stationary bike in order to raise money for the hospital that saved his life.
Henry Buswell, 37, was taken to Royal Papworth Hospital to await a heart transplant after suffering two almost fatal ventricular tachycardia (VT) events, a type of heart arrhythmia caused by a genetic disorder.
On June 1, he collapsed while working from home with his wife and was taken to his local hospital. He was then transferred to St Thomas’s in London and finally arrived at Papworth a week later where he suffered two heart attacks in one day and was revived both times by doctors carrying out chest compressions.
Now he wants to thank the hospital by attempting the charity ride on an exercise bike brought to his bedside by physio staff.
Henry, who has already raised more than £18,000 on his Go Fund Me page, explained: “The doctors and nurses at Papworth literally saved my life twice that day and it’s a debt I can never repay.”
He is now being kept alive by a ventricular assist device with tubes coming out of the four chambers of his heart that pump blood around his body while he awaits a donor heart.
“While I’m waiting I’m busy with physio rehab, walking and cycling every day. I have set myself the challenge of cycling the distance from the hospital here in Cambridge back to my wife, Susannah, and son, Guy, in Surrey. The total distance is 105 miles (170 km). I’ll be posting progress updates along the way.”
He adds: “I’ve been told when people are on the waiting list they can suffer quite a lot with mental health problems, so for me this is a good thing to keep me as focused and as far away from those sorts of bad feelings as possible.
“I’m trying to keep my days busy but the hardest thing with the Covid-19 pandemic going on is there is very, very little time for family visits. Whenever I have been in hospital before I have always been very lucky and had people in every day, whereas now I have been able to see my wife once a week and that’s for two hours, so it’s been pretty minimal and I have seen my son, who is 17 months-old, once but he is not allowed onto the ward. They wheeled me down into the ambulance bay and I saw him outside. It’s pretty tough not seeing him, especially at that age.”
Henry, an entertainment lawyer working for major companies including Netflix and Amazon, was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy 10 years ago when he collapsed while cycling on Waterloo Bridge. The condition means sometimes his heart beats too fast so that the chambers do not have time to refill and no blood is pumped around the body, causing him to collapse. If this goes on too long he can suffer a cardiac arrest. This most recent VT collapse was his third.
He says: “Most of my collapses have coincided with exercise but my cardiologist always thought it was better that I exercised rather than not. Cycling has been a hobby of mine and I have always cycled to work.”
However, this most recent collapse came out of the blue when he was staying with his in-laws during lockdown: “My wife and I were sitting opposite each other doing our daily work from home routine and I just told her I feel really awful and she said lie down on the floor. I only have little snippets of memory from there.
“It wasn’t painful but it was unpleasant. She called an ambulance and I think, unfortunately because her parents are in a very rural area, it took about half an hour to get there. I stopped breathing for a bit, which I think was a bit alarming,
and then thankfully started breathing again.”
He was transferred to Papworth on June 8 and started the challenge three days ago. He will be posting updates each day but is aiming for between five and 10km a day.
He says: “As part of my challenge, I’d like to ask for your help to raise money for this wonderful hospital. As they only deal with heart and lung disease, besides me, they have also been looking after a large number of the most complex and challenging Covid-19 cases in the country, many of whom have recovered in spite of spending months on heart and lung bypass machines. This is a very special place filled with incredible doctors and nurses.
“I wanted to do something for the hospital but I also needed something to keep me motivated and to have a target to aim for. It’s a bit of selfishness and altruism mixed in together
“I think the staff are happy for me to do what I can as long as I’m not pushing myself too hard. It is tough because I spent three weeks in bed literally not moving and so to begin with it was like learning to walk again. I hadn’t walked in three or four weeks, so getting back on your feet is quite challenging.
“They want me as fit as possible for the operation because it is hugely testing on the body, so if you go into the operation unable to move or walk you come out of it pretty badly. The more I can do and the fitter I can get and the more muscle I can put back on the better.
“My family is also very supportive as long as I’m keeping happy and well and not going too crazy.”
He is also feeling stoic about the major operation that lies ahead: “I’m not frightened of the operation. For me it is a lifesaving event for me where I am now. I either have a heart transplant or I die. There is literally no other option. My heart doesn’t work any more. I’m being kept alive by a machine. It’s literally the only option so I’m not scared, I’m looking forward to it.
“I’m just unsure how long I’m going to be waiting. That’s the big unknown.
“They have said the longer you are on the machine the more risk you have of complications but I have been told people have been on these machines for six months plus and been OK. So I think they are very clever here at keeping people alive.”
To make a donation visit gofundme.com/f/henrys-heart-transplant-bike-ride.