Yorkshire father's 'wake-up call' after heart tumour diagnosis

A routine shopping trip, turning to trepidation, then terror. Tony Surgey, a father of two, had been browsing Christmas cards when his heart stopped working as it should.

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Dropping his phone, he found himself unable to pick it up. Slumped to the side, he thought he was having a stroke. There was a tumour in his heart.

Tony Surgey, from Wombwell in Barnsley, suffered a tumour in his heart.

Tony Surgey, from Wombwell in Barnsley, suffered a tumour in his heart.

Mr Surgey's life, with the miracle of medical advances, was saved by surgeons. But he is one of so many thousands in the region facing the reality of heart frailty.

Yorkshire and Humber has the highest death rates in the country for coronary heart disease. Every 90 minutes, someone in the region is killed by heart and circulatory disease.

For the retired police officer, then in his late 40s, his experience came as a wake up call. We all need to think about our heart health, he says, before it's too late.

"I don't think I'm scared of dying," he says. "I'm scared of leaving family members behind.

Tony Surgey, a father of two, is urging others to think about their heart health after being struck down unexpectedly with a tumour in his late 40s.

Tony Surgey, a father of two, is urging others to think about their heart health after being struck down unexpectedly with a tumour in his late 40s.

"The things we associate with heart problems, like obesity, might be monitored. But those who live a healthy life should also perhaps pay a bit more attention.

"At the end of the day, it could be something a lot more serious, and a lot more sinister. Like mine was."

Rushed to hospital

Mr Surgey, from Wombwell near Barnsley, had been shopping at Meadowhall in the weeks before Christmas 2012 when his coordination suddenly disappeared.

Tony Surgey, who suffered a heart tumour, is among those backing the British Heart Foundation's 'Heart of Steel' at Meadowhall Shopping Centre, each strand of the steel sculpture engraved with the names of hundreds who have been affected

Tony Surgey, who suffered a heart tumour, is among those backing the British Heart Foundation's 'Heart of Steel' at Meadowhall Shopping Centre, each strand of the steel sculpture engraved with the names of hundreds who have been affected

His wife Christina, fearing he had suffered a stroke, rushed him to hospital by ambulance.

"It turns out I had a tumour in my heart, which was removed in the March of the next year," he said. "I was quite scared. I really did think this could be the end.

"I'd never heard of anybody having a tumour in their heart. Is it cancerous? As soon as someone says 'tumour', you think you're going to die."

Since that time, Mr Surgey says, he holds his life in greater value. Those around him, he tries to appreciate more. Giving back, he actively supports the British Heart Foundation.

His father-in-law's name, Robert Patrick Rhodes, is among those engraved on the charity's Heart of Steel at Meadowhall, honouring the families of thousands across the region.

Heart of Steel

Crafted from Yorkshire steel, each fiber of this monument is engraved with hundreds of names. At a special event to honour Yorkshire Day, another 6,210 names are added.

As we stand at the side, more come forward every few moments. One man, who was stopped short by a heart attack on the very day the Heart of Steel was put into place.

Another, berated by his smiling daughter as she spots him signing up without her. She had hoped to arrange it for him as a surprise, after he had a heart attack in May.

There is Anthony Turner, aged 80, who was the recipient of South Yorkshire's first heart transplant of the new millennium. Nearly two decades on, he is still going strong.

Jill Helders, 59, mother to Arctic Monkeys' drummer Matt Helders. The names of both her father-in-law, Kenneth Helders, and her father Barry Foster are engraved on the heart.

Mr Helders, despite suffering a heart attack on his 50th birthday, lived almost to his 90th birthday. Her father, she adds, had strong links to Sheffield's industrial past with his father before him, Albert, being the steelworker immortalised on the city's famous brick mural.

There are so many people from so many walks of life across the region, says Mr Surgey, living with conditions of the heart, and dealing with the aftermath of attacks.

He gives his time now to support research, and in the hope that others start to think.

"Now, I do appreciate all these people around, who don't get the recognition they deserve," he says. "Those who fundraise for charities, for medical research.

"The doctors and nurses and surgeons. And how can you ever thank someone enough?"