Interview: How I Cheated Death ..Twice; Film Maker Desmond Wilcox, Husband of Esther Rantzen, Survived a Huge Heart Attack and a Bypass Operation 12 Years Ago, Only to Undergo Serious Cardiac Surgery Again Nine Weeks Ago. He Tells Karen Hockney He's Lucky to Be Alive
Hockney, Karen, The Mirror (London, England)
HE HAS dodged bullets in war zones, reported on Third World famines and highlighted the plight of thousands of desperate children around the world in his job as one of Britain's foremost television documentary makers.
But in the last year, Desmond Wilcox has faced perhaps his biggest challenge yet as he battled his way through a massive coronary and life-saving heart surgery.
Now, just nine weeks after an emergency five-hour bypass operation to save his life, Desmond, 67, is already back at his desk and eagerly planning his next TV project.
The veteran film-maker who is married to TV favourite Esther Rantzen, realises just how close he came to death.
Having recovered from a heart attack last May, he was about to set off to Colombia, South America, in November for his forthcoming ITV documentary Children Of The Sewers, when he had the first indications that all was not well.
Speaking for the first time about his health crisis, Desmond says, "I was really looking forward to the trip. I made a film about Colombia's street children eight years ago and decided to follow up the story, but my cardiologist was worried about me going to a place of such high altitude, as it's about 10,000 feet above sea level.
"I had to have a series of rather unpleasant tests done and they discovered that I needed an operation, so there was no question of me being allowed to travel.
"I was devastated when I was told. Right up until the last minute I was hoping to go with the crew but I was virtually tied to the bed by my surgeon and my wife, who said no way.
"It turns out that if I had gone I would have popped my clogs in Colombia and frankly I can think of better places to die."
Desmond was admitted to hospital immediately when it was discovered that there were complications caused by a heart bypass operation he had 12 years ago. He cheated death once more on the operating table as worried Esther, 58, kept vigil outside.
"When I had my heart attack last summer, they discovered that the vein they had grafted in from my leg to do the job of an artery 12 years ago had furred up," he explains.
"They put in a stent, which is a tube to keep it clear but, five months later, it turned out that the vein was still furring up in spite of the stent.
"So they had to do another bypass operation and used one of my mammary arteries to bypass all the previous rubbish. They've left the other stuff in place as a piece of archaeological interest, I suppose!
"One mammary artery had been destroyed by a previous surgeon who had stitched up his mistake and not told anyone, so they had to look for the other mammary artery and sort it out. The operation took five hours instead of three and when you are under anaesthetic for too long, things go wrong. I had to be treated for kidney failure too.
"No sooner had I got out of that than I was suffering from a pulmonary embolism - a blood clot. It was on my lung and if it moves to the brain, you have a stroke and bang, you're dead.
"When they finished dealing with that, they discovered they had injected me so much in the left arm that my veins had collapsed. They started giving me poultices and antibiotics to cure that.
"I was totally fed up, so when it was all over, after 12 days in hospital, I told the cardiologist I was going home. He asked why and I said I'm fed up of being here. If I stay here any longer I'll get pregnant because it's the only thing that hasn't gone wrong.
"He said, `You're right, hospitals can be bad places. You can be well enough looked after at home', so he discharged me."
The operation was the latest blow for Desmond and Esther, whose health worries started when their eldest daughter Emily, 20, was diagnosed with the chronic fatigue syndrome ME five years ago. …