• Claude Lam with his wife and daughter. (Supplied )Source: Supplied
Over three years ago, Claude Lam fell unconscious while driving and woke up in an ambulance. Doctors later discovered that the 37-year-old had heart disease. Lam tells SBS how he wrestled with his diagnosis and changed his diet to save his life.
Claude Lam, Presented by
Yasmin Noone

4 Dec 2018 - 2:35 PM  UPDATED 5 Dec 2018 - 1:31 PM

To look at me, I am quite lean. I run, jog and cycle. 

All of my immediate family members are still healthy and, to-date, have never had any heart issues.

But around three and a half years ago, at age 37, I was diagnosed with heart disease. I was asymptotic.

The news was a huge shock – it rocked my world.

It all came to a head one night, when I was driving down the freeway in Geelong, Victoria, after work. One moment I was fine and the next moment, I woke up in an ambulance. I still don’t recall what happened but I am told that while I was driving, I lost consciousness. The car came to a crashing halt but, luckily, no one was injured.

There just happened to be an ambulance driving about a kilometre behind me on the road, so that was amazing. That was the ambulance I woke up in.

I’d see someone who was overweight, eating a hamburger and think ‘I’m lean and fit, and I don’t eat junk food often. And yet, I am the one who’s got a lifelong disease’.

I was taken to hospital but the doctors couldn’t explain what happened. They did a lot of tests and scans over the next few months and recognised that two of my arteries were about 90 per cent blocked.

I was diagnosed with heart disease and had open-heart surgery.

As I was fit and healthy, I recovered very quickly and had no complications. I was out of work for three months.

But after my diagnosis, I struggled emotionally and often asked ‘why me?’ I’d see someone who was overweight, eating a hamburger and think ‘I’m lean and fit, and I don’t eat junk food often. And yet, I am the one who’s got a lifelong disease’.

I’ve since come to accept my diagnosis of heart disease and decided to exercise more control over the food that I put in my mouth.

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Before my diagnosis, I was not unhealthy but I wasn’t educated enough to know what was in the food I was eating.

I’m an ABC: Australian-born Chinese. My mum and dad are both from Hong Kong and are Chinese Cantonese. So growing up, mum would cook traditional Chinese Cantonese meals for us, like the type you get in Australian-based Chinese restaurants. We’d eat meals that were hearty featuring a lot of sauces and salt, like oyster-flavoured steaks, broccoli with oyster sauce, congee with thousand-year-old eggs and sesame oil and white rice.

Later, as I l moved away from home and started my own family, my diet became a combination of Asian and modern Australian foods. I ate what I thought was right to eat. But when I reflect upon some of the choices I made back then, I realise I could have made better, more informed decisions.

I’ve since come to accept my diagnosis of heart disease and decided to exercise more control over the food that I put in my mouth.

I’m now motivated to improve my diet for me and also because of the impact my health has on my children – I want to be sure I give them the best possible start in life with good nutrition advice.

So a lot of the food I currently eat is fresh. I have the philosophy that food is medicine, and that food from nature is healing for our bodies.

If I do buy packaged, highly processed foods – which I try to stay away from – I will always look at the nutritional values on the packet first. I check the salt, sugar and carbohydrate contents on the side to guide me through choosing better alternatives. I’m a true believer that salt is good for your body but too much is bad.

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My taste buds have changed too. I used to crave chocolate, sweets and salty foods but that’s now completely different. If I do eat out, I find that most dishes are too salty for me and it turns me off.

I don’t eat much traditional Chinese food these days – except when we have family celebrations. But even then, I will usually only have a little bit and I choose the parts that are not covered in sauce and remove any batter if it is a fried dish.

My family have also changed their diets and are now choosing to eat better foods.

I believe eating well is a sign of love for your body and a sign of self-respect.

But if there’s one take-home message about the importance of eating well, after all I have been through, it’d be this: if you don’t have time for your health you will eventually have to make time for your sickness.

If you are in an emergency situation, call an ambulance on Triple Zero, 000. For heart health information, call the Heart Foundation's Helpline on 13 11 12 or visit www.heartfoundation.org.au 

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