In 2000, I had a minor heart attack. I was okay but some time after that, my husband got very sick. I looked after him because I didn’t want him to go to a nursing home. But I didn’t look after myself. I was running our restaurant and busy all the time.
Then, just over three-and-a-half years ago, in 2015, I had another heart attack. The day I had my second heart attack, I felt like I had problems with my stomach and experienced heartburn. The ambulance came to the house and the [paramedics] said ‘it’s not your heart’. But I said ‘I feel worse’. I knew that whatever I had wasn’t a normal stomach-ache or heartburn.
So they took me to the hospital. I didn’t go to the emergency department. I waited to see a doctor for two hours. When they finally called me in, I went inside a room and the medical staff [did tests on me]. Then, the nurse left everything and she ran off [to get help]. I was having a heart attack – then and there in the hospital.
...Changing my diet was the most important thing I had to do.
The doctors took me upstairs [to the emergency department] straight away. I went home after four days and then four months later, in December 2015, I had a quadruple bypass.
After that, everything changed. I was told ‘no sugar and no salt’. That means whatever is salty, you’re not allowed to eat and whatever is sweet you’re not allowed to eat. So, changing my diet was the most important thing I had to do.
I lost 25 kilos.
Before I had the heart attacks, I never looked on the labels of food products to see what they had in them. But now, I always look to see how much potassium or sodium is in the food I buy. If it’s too much, I am not going to touch it.
Of course, we are human: we must have a free day for ourselves [to eat freely] once a week. It doesn’t make a difference if you do that once a week – just don’t overdo it.
I cook a lot of food at home – I cook the Mediterranean. I used to eat a lot of fatty feta and used a lot of cream in my cooking before I had the heart attacks. But these days, you can get low-fat feta. It’s not so tasty like the fatty ones but it doesn’t make any difference.
If I buy feta cheese, you know what I do? I boil the milk, take the feta and wash it. Then I put the feta in skim milk. The milk absorbs 50-60 per cent of the salt. Then you can eat a normal-sized piece – it’s nice. In my spanakopita, I use low-fat feta or the feta in the milk that I make.
When I cook for the family – let’s say for instance I make meat with rice – I no longer put salt in the dish while it is cooking. When the food is finished, I make my own plate first and then maybe, I put a little pinch of salt in it if I have to and add as much pepper as I want.
If I use tomato in my cooking, I use fresh tomato. I don’t use any bottles or purees or tins – no tins! No ham – all the deli stuff is really the worst thing you can eat. I also eat a lot of avocados.
My message to anyone who is trying to improve their diet is to avoid eating foods from a can. It’s a no-no. No cans means no beans from a can, no mushrooms from a can: no, nothing!
It’s not hard to get used to. Put your health first, and then think about the other things second – like your tastebuds.
You can do it. It’s very easy. Just cook with fresh food. It is cheaper and better for your health. If you cook the right way, your food will be tastier and you’ll feel better.
If you are in an emergency situation, contact 000 immediately. For questions about heart health, to access healthy recipes, or if are in need of support, contact the Heart Foundation on 13 11 12.