A ‘ground-breaking’ heart operation at Blackpool Victoria Hospital saved the life of Coronation Street actor Malcolm Hebden.
The Lancashire star, who plays busy-body shopkeeper Norris Cole in the ITV soap, was treated at the Lancashire Cardiac Centre in December, where consultant cardiothoracic surgeon Joseph Zacharias ‘wallpapered’ his heart.
Such was the severity of the 'silent' heart attack - which came with none of the warning signs typical of a heart attack - that it effectively tore his heart, splitting a hole in the left ventricle and it was unclear whether he would survive.
After the operation Malcolm, who grew up in Burnley, was then in a three week-long induced coma, before being transferred back to Blackburn Royal Hospital for further rehabilitation, meaning he never met many of the nurses and other staff who cared for him during his stay in Blackpool.
“Most of December I was in an induced coma, in the care of these brilliant, wonderful people at the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU), he told the Gazette, while attending a celebration day to mark the NHS’s 70th anniversary today, having made a 'remarkable recovery'.
“Fortunately I didn’t realise how bad it was; I was dying.
“The cardiac team, headed by Mr Zacharias, simply saved my life."
The 78-year-old had visited his GP with a chest infection and after listening to his heart he was called later that same day to be told an emergency ambulance was on its way to collect him and take him to the Royal Blackburn Hospital, the nearest hospital to his home in the Ribble Valley.
“I was informed by my doctor I had had at least one heart attack,” he said. “I was sent to hospital, by emergency ambulance to Blackburn hospital and was there one night.
“While there I collapsed and was brought here to Blackpool Victoria - where I was operated on, in a procedure which was described by my surgeon Mr Zacharias as ‘ground-breaking’.
“The heart attack tore a hole in my heart, they operated and took a chance.”
The actor’s heart was ‘wallpapered’ to repair the damage done by the silent heart attack, using tissue from a cow in the procedure.
He was moved back to the Royal Blackburn Hospital still in a coma, and came round 'some time in January', before being discharged in late February, after almost three months in hospital.
"From getting into that ambulance at home, I don't really remember much at all," he said.
"It was almost like I thought it was happening to Norris Cole, like a soap opera about the NHS."
While Malcolm was unaware of the care and treatment he was receiving at the Vic, his long-standing friend Vicky who witnessed the staff’s work praised their efforts as she accompanied him on today’s visit.
“The staff were not only wonderful in caring for Malcolm, but to his friends and next of kin,” she said. “They said ring any time, day or night, and I did.
“They were always patient and kind, they always told me what they knew - even though in the first couple of weeks it was very much on a day-to-day basis as I didn’t know if he was going to survive.
“The expertise in that CICU is amazing.
"Most people who have these 'silent' heart attacks just drop down, dead, but because he'd been to his doctor that day, he was incredibly lucky."
Malcolm added: “Hospitals don’t get good press because the NHS just can’t do everything, but all praise to Blackpool hospital and the NHS.
“I met some nurses while at Blackburn, they had been coming round turning me every half hour through the night for weeks.
“But I didn’t meet the staff really at Blackpool; I want to thank these people who were strangers to me, but to whom I owe my life.
"It's wonderful to meet them and a bit emotional to be reunited with the people who I never met, here today."
The actor first appeared as Norris in Coronation Street since 1994, taking a break between 1997 and 1999, and playing the nosy neighbour ever since.
He has been on an 'extended break' from filming at Corrie's Media City studios in Salford, with a cruel online hoax claiming he had actually died circulating earlier this year.
Malcolm told the Gazette his future on the show was still uncertain, due to his on-going recovery although he has been discharged from the Vic's care.
“People are asking if I’m returning to the Street, but that’s just not known yet," he said. "I may do, I may not, it depends on my recovery.”
After the initial emergency and post-operative care at the Vic, Malcolm also received physiotherapy and is still taking 'handfuls of pills' as he continues his recovery.
"They have sort of discharged me," he explained. "Mr Zacharias said to me though 'I'm there if you need me', which is what the NHS is all about.
"I was born in 1938, so I just about remember times before the NHS and was talking to someone yesterday who was born in 1948.
"They said: 'What did you do then?', well we paid.