TV’s Sally Bee tells us about her plucky road to recovery after suffering five heart attacks and the positive outlook that helped her get there
I doubt there are many people who, after suffering five heart attacks would feel like running positivity pop-ups. But TV presenter Sally Bee has put herself back together again and is doing just that, starting here in her beloved Midlands.
After putting her TV career on hold 15 years ago to have babies – she starred in Peak Practice among other things – Sally’s life was rocked by three heart attacks in the space of a week followed by two more attacks in 2016. Not expected to reach 40, Sally is shouting from the roof tops about being 50 and is ‘giving back’ by spreading her brand of positivity to whoever’ll listen. Her healthy lifestyle message is evident in a regular cooking spot on ITV’s Lorraine and her inspirational book, Beelicious. In addition, Sally’s involved in wellness mentoring and fulfils an ambassadorial role at Heart Research UK.
All of Sally’s children were under the age of five when the first heart attack struck. Healthy young women don’t have heart attacks by and large, but confusingly and scarily Sally bucked that trend with near catastrophic results. She was just 36 at the time.
Sally recalls: “I was at a birthday party with the children when I started to feel extremely unwell. I understood immediately that something serious was happening. I handed my baby to a friend before collapsing. My chest felt like it was being crushed and I was struggling to breathe.” Friends called an ambulance while Sally tried to give her husband instructions about what to do with the children.
After an ECG, paramedics said there was a slight abnormality but nothing to worry about. They took Sally to hospital from which she left with indigestion pills. The next couple of days were spent recuperating at home until the terrific pain hit again. She explains: “If at that moment someone had offered to cut off my right arm so that the pain would go away, I would readily have handed over the knife.”
Cardiologists confirmed Sally was having a heart attack. Sally was moved to another hospital for an angiogram where she suffered another massive attack at which point her husband was called in to say goodbye. Sally says: “The doctors had told him that my heart had sustained a shocking amount of damage and that I was going to die and yet I had so much to live for.”
Sally survived the unsurvivable and began slowly rebuilding her life through the power of a positive outlook and a healthy approach to diet and well-being. The emotional rollercoaster calmed and the fear of another heart attack stopped ruling Sally’s life eventually. A diagnosis of FMD (Fibromuscular Dysplasia) in 2014 solved the mystery of why she’d had the attacks but didn’t help much to put Sally’s mind at rest. FMD is a rare condition of the blood vessels which causes them to be very wiggly. Sally explains: “It transpires I have wiggly arteries in my brain, neck, heart, kidneys and legs – the condition leaves me prone to heart attacks and strokes.”
Life was good until 2016 when two further attacks struck. “Everything was trotting along nicely. My kids were all growing up, happy and thriving.” Twelve years of rebuilding had been wiped out and Sally found the thought of having to fight back again physically and mentally daunting. “I genuinely didn’t know if I could do it again. I had the curtain pulled around the bed in the ward and wouldn’t let anyone see me.” Then Sally started to think ‘I’ve done this before, I can do it again.’ She just needed to work through the stages. “As before, I understood that my recovery was down to my food, my fitness, my thoughts, my movement and me. They all needed to work together to get my life back.”
More organised this time round, Sally stepped back from TV to get strong again and starting writing wellness journal Beelicious. She developed techniques to trick her brain into pushing negative thoughts to one side. “I reached a point where I was more afraid of living in fear than being dead. I taught myself to think differently.”
Another attack could happen at any time which is tough to live with. “People say it can happen to anybody. You could get hit by a bus. Well that’s true, but most people don’t hear the big red bus revving at their door every day!” Sally recently signed a sponsorship deal and one of the clauses in the paperwork addressed what would happen if she died which was an eye-opener.
Living in the Midlands means that Sally did well in the NHS postcode lottery, getting top treatment and support from Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital. She now counsels heart patients around the UK and works with a variety of companies and NHS consultants ‘handing over the tools’. She says: “We all know what we should be doing to stay healthy. We just need to engage the brain and make the right decisions.”