Heart attack changes Trevor Smith-Foreman’s outlook

Heart attack changes Trevor Smith-Foreman's outlook

When you were thinking of what goals you’d like to achieve for 2018 chances are they were more than likely to be along the lines of eating and drinking less and doing more exercise.

For Trevor Smith-Foreman however things were a little different.

The Creative Director and CEO of Tunbridge Wells design agency gingermonkeys (NB all lowercase) which counts Marks and Spencer and Debenhams among its key clients, was quite simply, just glad to be alive.

Just over a year previously, on December 12 to be precise, Trevor suffered a near fatal heart attack which resulted in him being in intensive care for weeks, undergoing a quintuple bypass surgery and learning to walk again.

The fact that Trevor, who has worked in the creative industry for the past four decades, managed to survive such a colossal heart attack still eludes him.

“I honestly don’t know how I survived it,” he says as we sit down to talk about this life changing experience in his uber opulent office which resembles more a 17th century dandy’s pad than a work space – think lavish flock paper on the walls, Palace of Versailles style gilded furniture and button-back glossy leather padded doors.

Bland and boring this is certainly not but then neither again is Trevor who for a man in his 60s – he won’t reveal his exact age – dresses like he has just come off the Jean Paul Gaultier or Vivienne Westwood catwalk.

“We’re very passionate about what we do here,” he explains.

“I get a little bit fed up with so many creative agencies following the herd and doing the same thing but we aim to be different.

“Take our premises for example. I’m sure people expect white walls, glass boxes, or a bit of bare brick work and a bike hanging on the wall, but when you come inside gingermonkeys it makes you stop and think.”

That was certainly the case for me as I entered inside and found my hand sliding up an animal hide covered bannister before walking past a brass riveted metallic bank vault door into Trevor’s top floor office which overlooks the centre of Tunbridge Wells.

“Working here you’re in your own little world. It’s inspiring and I want the staff to look forward to coming into a creative environment which results in a creative output. Everything I do I want to do it differently to everyone else.”

All of that sharp aesthetic focus however was suddenly dramatically skewed in December 2016 when Trevor was admitted to A&E suffering a huge heart attack, not that he can recall much from that time.

“There’s such a lot I still have to keep questioning, there’s so much I cannot remember,” he says explaining that’s the reason that his wife Lizzie is sitting in on our conversation.

Lizzie then picks up the story: “Trevor said he had been experiencing pain in his upper torso. It was actually more on his left arm but he didn’t share that with me . . .” As a result the couple made an appointment to go to the doctor just a couple of weeks into December 2016 but they could only seen by a locum instead of Trevor’s usual GP.

“He told me not to worry about it. He said he’d seen lots of heart attacks and what I was experiencing were not the symptoms of one. It was a kind of slap on the back and you’ll feel better tomorrow, type attitude.I was completely dismissed and distinctly remember him saying ‘I’m not going to give you an ECG as it’s a waste of time’.”

Fast forward a few days and Trevor found himself in an ambulance being rushed to A&E.

“They were absolutely superb. I remember the first thing the paramedics said to me was ‘we must give you an ECG, you’re having a heart attack’.”

Trevor was taken to the William Harvey hospital in Ashford as Pembury was full up and he was then transferred to the London Bridge hospital where he underwent quintuple bypass surgery.

“We thought naïvely that Trevor would be home a few days later and that he would only be in intensive care for 24 hours but it wasn’t like that at all,”continues Lizzie.

“There were lots of complications including renal failure, blood clotting and a partly collapsed lung. Trevor was on a ventilator and in intensive care for two weeks. Every day there seemed to be another complication.”

“Meanwhile I really thought . . .” Trevor pauses, “that I’d been taken by aliens. I’m being dead serious. I thought they were experimenting on me. I was trying to beg Lizzie to get me out but I had all these tubes in my mouth as I was on a ventilator and taking morphine.”

Lizzie goes on to say that despite all the trauma there were days when Trevor seemed ‘alert and coherent’ and although he couldn’t speak, he was able to communicate using his eyes. Yet once he had come off the drugs she says he had ‘absolutely no recollection and no idea of the time period that had passed’.

Trevor was back home at the end of January after recovering from his intensive surgery and learning to walk again.

He then returned gradually to work from Easter onwards, albeit on a part-time basis.

Would it be fair to say that Lizzie and the four children they have between them, Hayley, 36, and Ashley , 39, from Trevor’s first marriage and Lizzie’s Will, 19, and Maddie, 15, absorbed a lot of the trauma too?

“Oh yes for them it is much worse,” Trevor says. “It’s not until you get home and the penny drops and you realise how bad that situation was for Lizzie and the children. It’s worse as they can see it and are living with it day in and day out – I was out of it. “The worst thing for me was if I’d passed away I wouldn’t have had the chance to say goodbye. I still think about that now and it really upsets me that I might have not been able to say the things I wanted to. It is a really horrible situation.”

Despite the terrifying place they found themselves in and the black thoughts that Trevor admits still cloud his thoughts, he’s acutely aware of the myriad of positives to focus on, too.

Firstly he survived and is here to tell the tale and despite having to learn to walk again after the severe muscle loss he suffered being in intensive care so long, Trevor is now back working full-time and rocking his idiosyncratic sartorial look and passion for all things design.

“Trevor is an incredibly determined man,” Lizzie states. “And that was the thing I had in my mind the whole time; that he wouldn’t go without a fight and he really did – despite all the odds being against him, he did not let go.”

Is his approach to life both personally and professionally now different?

“Well I’ve never smoked and don’t drink so my consultant said that the heart attack was driven by stress. I’ve been going to the gym more and I’ve now got a personal trainer. We do a lot more together as a family but I think the nature of running my business means that I am still always thinking of other people. I’m a designer, I care and I don’t want to compromise the quality of my work.”

Trevor has already taken on more help with the business courtesy of his eldest daughter Hayley who now helps him run the HR and day to day things which he says has definitely taken away ‘another layer of stress’.

He says he still gets a lot of nightmares, a common post-traumatic stress side affect, which is always the same scenario: him in intensive care.

“I always remember an intensely lit room with what looks like aliens but they are people and I am begging them not to touch me.”

And although Trevor says he was a ‘bit emotionally wobbly’ around Dec 12 a year later he knows he has to look forwards and not backwards.

“When I went to see my surgeon, Max Baghai, 12 weeks after the operation it was brilliant because he saved my life. I have now seen Mr Bhatai at The Spire in Fordecombe, for two checks up in the last six months and he is very happy too. But one thing I have to say after all this is that you feel like something has been cut out of you and discarded. You feel your soul isn’t there anymore. It’s really weird, it’s as if a stranger has gone inside of you and taken an organ out: you don’t feel whole. It’s still the same feeling now but you learn to live with it.”

And what about Trevor’s ultimate goal for 2018?

“I want to stay healthy, to love my family more and more and for my business to be successful. This thing that has happened to me hasn’t just affected me, it’s touched my family and staff and you have to remember them. But they have all been loyal and stayed with me and I really do appreciate that.”

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