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Bernie's Story
Bernie's Story

In his forties and fifties Bernie Cloke scared the living daylights out of his wife, friends and family.  One minute he would be as right as rain and the next minute he’d collapse, unable to stand up, walk or move his arms.

Just five years ago, aged 65, Bernie was finally diagnosed as having an arrhythmia.  An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heart beat, it can beat too fast, too slow or with an irregular rhythm.

Bernie’s arrhythmia goes back 25 years and started with dizzy spells.  A busy cabinetmaker by trade Bernie collapsed at work one day and took himself off to the doctor.  At first it was thought he had Meniere’s disease (a dis-order of the inner ear).  However, an ear specialist disregarded Meniere’s disease and Bernie was referred to neurologist.

“It was nothing short of a disaster.  They put me on drugs which literally blew my brains out,” he said.

Bernie was then referred to a cardiologist who also put him on drugs.

“I was spaced out, off with the fairies and ended up in hospital with what I thought was a stroke,” said Bernie.
The hospital told Bernie there was nothing wrong with him and he was just over sensitive to drugs.

Alas the dizzy spells never went away. Things came to a head in March 2009 when Bernie and his wife Ann, were tramping in the hills behind Te Aroha.

Bernie says the day didn’t bode well.  They got a flat tyre and the rivers were flooded.

“I was going up a steep hill and the pain in the chest hit me – it was if I’d been turned off – all the power went out of my body and there was no way I could stand up,” he said.

It was thought he was having a heart attack and a fellow tramper ran to get within cellphone range and call for the helicopter. Consequently the chopper arrived, having difficulty landing in a small clearing next to a hut. The paramedics attended Bernie and he was stretchered to the chopper and taken to hospital.

By the time Bernie reached Waikato Hospital his condition had returned to normal.  Again hospital tests revealed nothing and Bernie was sent home.

After this episode a very frustrated Bernie and Ann revisited their GP.  They asked to be referred to different cardiologist.  A new cardiologist gave Bernie some tests and sent him home with a heart rhythm monitor.  Bernie was to push the button when he had another attack so the monitor could record what was happening.

About three weeks later tramping at Pirongia, Bernie had a big attack.  Ann says it was pretty scary.

“He was practically unconscious and he thought he was going to die,” she said.

Bernie pushed the button on the monitor but nothing recorded so Ann took notes every few minutes.  Bernie said the pain hit him in the head, went down the back of his neck and then his arms suddenly collapsed.

After about half an hour resting on a log the power came back into Bernie’s body and they were able to walk out.

Ann’s notes went back to the cardiologist who diagnosed Bernie as having an arrhythmia.  Instead of a steady beat, Bernie’s heartbeat fluttered like a faulty spark plug and wasn’t generating enough pressure.  This caused a lack of blood to the head and shut everything but the main organs down.

The cardiologist told Bernie there were three things he could do: he could do nothing, he could take a pill if he is out tramping or feels an attack coming on, or he could have a procedure called Electrophysiology and Ablation.

Bernie opted for the procedure in which four wires were threaded through Bernie’s groin into his heart and electrical testing undertaken to diagnose the exact cause of the problem. In Bernie’s case it turned out that there was an intermittent electrical short circuit in the heart. This was treated with a bit of “spot welding” to get rid of the short circuit.

“I really didn’t feel a thing – it took about two and a half hours and after all this time, that was it.

 “I’ve never had another attack since”,  said Bernie.

After years of being misunderstood and misdiagnosed Bernie now leads an active and fulfilling life.

In 2011 on a trip to Nepal, Bernie climbed to 5,483m.  Starting from altitude it took Bernie and his companions eight days to get to Gokyo.  From there he went on to enjoy close up views of Everest from Gokyo Peak.  

A number of trampers dropped out at base camp because of breathing difficulties but Bernie was determined to get there even if it killed him.  He said it was an effort to find the energy to move his body and impossible to eat with a dry mouth and cracked tongue.

“It was an unbelievable experience”.

“Gokyo Peak was literally a white out but I got a magnificent photo of Mt Everest on the way down,” said Bernie.

Bernie says The Heart Trust has given him an entirely new life.

“If it wasn’t for them funding the electrophysiology equipment and for a trained cardiologist to perform the procedure at Waikato Hospital, I would have had to lead a very sedentary lifestyle.

“These people are passionate about what they do – the work they are doing is just amazing,” he said.