At age 57, Jim Middap had survived two heart attacks and spent months in cardiac rehab only to find out that he was virtually unemployable by the time he was ready to rejoin the workforce.
For three years, Mr Middap, who was made redundant from his HR role after his first heart attack in 2012, sent his CV far and wide and followed up job leads to no avail.
“Nobody wanted to know who I was after I had the heart attack,” Mr Middap, now 63, told The New Daily.
The Queensland husband who has six diplomas, including in business administration and human resources, estimated he has lost $400,000 in potential income and out-of-pocket medical expenses.
“My wife was in a full-time job. She had to stay on because we still had to pay the mortgage, pay the bills. She did it all.”
“I would’ve taken anything. I would have preferred full-time but couldn’t even get a casual job,” Mr Middap, who eventually relocated to Adelaide for a contract job, said.
Thanks to advances in treatment and care, fewer Australians are dying from heart attacks, with the number of deaths halved between 1998-1999 and 2007-2008.
However, Heart Foundation economist Bill Stavreski told The New Daily that an increasing number of heart attack survivors are left bearing the financial costs for years after the medical episode.
“The effects are ongoing, both from a health perspective and on the hip pocket,” he said.
“The most significant cost is the productivity loss, or loss of income … but also they might need to hire people to do their cleaning, or gardening and so on.”
New Australian data reveals that three in 10 people who survived an acute coronary syndrome, or ACS – an umbrella term for heart attacks and other sudden blockages to the heart – were left unemployed.
For survivors this means an estimated lifetime cost of $4,830.9 million in lost income, out-of-pocket medical expenses and informal care provided by family members, according to the Heart Foundation report.
The foundation estimates that the average cost of heart attack to an individual and their family over a lifetime is $68,000.
“While the majority of these people return to work within nine months of their ACS event, some people never return to the same level of activity,” report author and economist Clare Saunders wrote.
For Mornington Peninsula parent, Paul Edwards, an unexpected heart attack four years ago meant scaling back to part-time work to focus on his health and young family.
“I haven’t worked full-time since the middle of 2016 and my health has improved dramatically,” the 50-year-old told The New Daily.
Mr Edwards said his wife, Claudia, also left her full-time job to help take care of him and their daughter, Elliot.
“My wife works from home two days a week, so we share the time to take our little one to school.”
Informal care, such as driving to medical appointments and basic nursing assistance by family or friends, is often seen as the ‘invisible’ cost of heart attack.
A British study of carers of people with coronary heart disease found that carers spent an average of 23 hours a month caring for their loved one.
“I can’t even count the lost time having to leave work to go to the GP to have blood taken, and taking the 45 minutes to recover from that before going to work,” Mr Edwards said.
“I’m thankful that I was able to get back into work in some capacity.”
The Heart Foundation’s Economic Cost of Acute Coronary Syndrome in Australia: The Cost to Individuals and Their Families report builds on the foundation’s first report on the cost to governments.
Both reports, which were funded by a Sanofi Community Support Research Grant, were launched at the 66th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Cardiac Society in Brisbane on Friday.