Great reads

A pub­lished au­thor, cook, wife and mother, Sally Bee, 46, seems to have all plates spin­ning in time, but as Han­nah Stephen­son finds, her suc­cess comes with a story…

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Af­ter suf­fer­ing three heart at­tacks, cook­book au­thor and mum-of-three Sally Bee needed to get healthy. She tells Fri­day how she did it.

A busy mum of three with a hec­tic ca­reer as a healthy cook and au­thor, Sally Bee is one of those women who poses the ques­tion: ‘How does she do it?’ Add glossy brunette locks, glow­ing skin and a broad smile and it’s got us all think­ing, ‘No re­ally; tell us how she does it!’

But on hear­ing that a decade ago, at the age of 36, Sally suf­fered three ma­jor heart at­tacks within a week, and the to­tal col­lapse of one of the main coro­nary ar­ter­ies, she be­comes all the more su­per hu­man.

Doc­tors thought she wouldn’t sur­vive and told her cam­era­man hus­band, Do­gan, to say his good­byes. He faced rais­ing their three chil­dren Tarik, then four, Kazim, two and Lela, nine months, as a sin­gle par­ent. Not that Sally would let that hap­pen…

This year marks the 10th an­niver­sary of the Bri­ton’s brush with death, but the de­voted mum re­mem­bers her fight for sur­vival as if it were yes­ter­day. She had three chil­dren un­der five, didn’t smoke or drink and was ex­er­cis­ing away the ex­tra ki­los she’d gained hav­ing Lela.

“I went to a child’s birth­day party and very quickly felt un­well,” she re­calls. “I had a feel­ing of im­pend­ing doom. I handed my nine-month-old daugh­ter to a friend, went to the toi­let and then came out and just sud­denly col­lapsed.”

The pain in her chest in­creased, her left arm went limp and she felt sick and sweaty. An am­bu­lance took her to Warwick Hospi­tal, UK, but paramedics thought she was hav­ing a panic at­tack, and she was sent home with in­di­ges­tion medicine.

“I be­lieved ev­ery­thing they told me,” she says. “I had such faith in the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion, but I don’t any more. I was hav­ing a heart at­tack.”

The pain grad­u­ally sub­sided but, a cou­ple of days later, it hit again. “It was like a herd of ele­phants stamp­ing on my chest.”

Again, she was rushed to hospi­tal, only this time the ECG re­sults re­vealed she’d suf­fered a very

‘I had such faith in the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion, but I don’t any­more. I was hav­ing a heart at­tack’

se­ri­ous heart at­tack. Sally’s con­di­tion de­te­ri­o­rated to the ex­tent that she could no longer speak.

“The only thought in my head was to keep breath­ing,” she says. “I made a deal with my­self that I would just keep breath­ing. I think that saved my life at the time.”

The team man­aged to sta­bilise her enough to move her to a hospi­tal in Coven­try, where she had an an­giogram to as­sess any block­age in the ar­ter­ies. The sur­geon was shocked at the dam­age, es­pe­cially when she ar­rested again.

“There was noth­ing they could do,” Sally says. “I thought for a mo­ment that I was dead and this was what it was like.”

She later found out that her main left artery had un­rav­elled and dis­in­te­grated. Sally was di­ag­nosed with spon­ta­neous coro­nary artery dis­sec­tion (SCAD), a con­di­tion so

rare that only 120 cases have been recorded since its de­tec­tion in 1938. “Do­gan came in sob­bing, say­ing ‘I love you’. It was the mo­ment he walked in that I re­alised I was alive,” she says. “At that point, I thought about the chil­dren and that’s where my sur­vival in­stinct kicked in big time. No­body can re­ally ex­plain why I sur­vived that night. Ac­cord­ing to all the med­i­cal books, I shouldn’t have.”

She sur­vived be­cause a net­work of col­lat­eral ves­sels formed had grown to com­pen­sate for the dis­in­te­grated artery, sup­ply blood to her heart. As she re­gained strength, Sally cre­ated a new healthy eat­ing plan for her and her fam­ily, be­liev­ing that her diet was go­ing to be in­stru­men­tal in her re­cov­ery.

“It was all about tak­ing con­trol of my own des­tiny,” she ex­plains. “The way I moved and the food I ate had a mas­sive im­pact on my health. If I thought, ‘Oh blow it, I’ll have a cheese sand­wich for lunch’, I’d sleep for 12 hours af­ter­wards. But if I had some­thing light and nu­tri­tious, I could walk down the drive and back.

“At one point, I had a Chi­nese take­away and had to go to hospi­tal of my life. But that is com­pletely nor­mal to me.” She is now a trained ther­a­pist giv­ing reg­u­lar talks to heart re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pa­tients, al­though coun­selling didn’t help her per­son­ally at the time.

“I didn’t have the right coun­sel­lor. She didn’t iden­tify what I needed help with. I wasn’t un­happy, I was liv­ing on adren­a­line. I wasn’t de­pressed, I was scared of dy­ing ev­ery minute. I had mo­ments of in­san­ity, think­ing I was a ghost.”

To­day, Sally only wants to look for­ward. She doesn’t go to the gym but ex­er­cises ev­ery day. She can live life to the full – but with con­di­tions. “If I get a slight sore throat or cold, I’m wiped out and have to lie down,” she says. “If I’m un­der the weather, my fam­ily leaps into ac­tion. The un­der­cur­rent of liv­ing with a heart con­di­tion is still there.”

Her chil­dren now un­der­stand the sever­ity of their mum’s con­di­tion. “I do lots of work with our lo­cal heart char­ity and they come to cer­tain events with me. They just ac­cept it, be­cause I’m so well.”

In the past few years, she’s been in hospi­tal around six times for pre­cau­tion­ary mon­i­tor­ing and also re­turns for her six-monthly check­ups. “They are re­ally anx­ious times and that’s when it takes me back,” she says.

When she had the heart at­tacks, her heart out­put was only 17 per cent, and dur­ing her re­cov­ery, re­mained at 40 per cent for three to four years. But “some­thing changed a cou­ple of years ago” and Sally’s heart out­put is now 75 per cent, which is the good side of nor­mal for her age, though she still has to take reg­u­lar rests, switch­ing off the phone and com­puter.

“My heart hasn’t got a dis­ease but has suf­fered from this mas­sive ac­ci­dent,” she says. “My car­di­ol­o­gist now thinks he’ll be treat­ing me into my seven­ties. He’ll prob­a­bly be dead by then!”

Sally’s ca­reer’s blos­somed, but she has to bal­ance work with look­ing af­ter her heart – and her fam­ily.

“I’m not be­ing a diva when I’m sched­ul­ing in rest and ask­ing for par­tic­u­lar things to eat. It’s not life­style, for me it is life or death.”

She’s in talks to do her own TV se­ries. “I’m not Nigella yet, but it’s my time,” she says. “The next 10 years are go­ing to be my best ever.”

‘I’m not be­ing a diva when I’m sched­ul­ing in rest and ask­ing for par­tic­u­lar things to eat’

be­cause my heart rhythm went com­pletely hay­wire. Very quickly I had to cut out all ad­di­tives.”

She continues, “One of the doc­tors in the hospi­tal told me, if you can sur­vive 10 years, you can sur­vive for­ever. I think I’m Peter Pan.”

Now Sally is plan­ning a big party in Au­gust to mark the an­niver­sary. She has forged a ca­reer as a healthy eat­ing ex­pert on TV, while her fourth cook­book, The Se­cret In­gre­di­ent Fam­ily

Cook­book, has just been pub­lished. She counts Michelle Obama, a great pro­po­nent of eat­ing for health, among her fans. TheWhite House or­dered copies of Sally’s first three cook­books and she’ll be send­ing the First Lady a copy of her lat­est one.

“The heart at­tacks no longer de­fine me. I feel like it hap­pened to some­body else now, but I do take great care of my­self,” she says.

“I have to rest, I have to eat well and I’ll be on med­i­ca­tion for the rest

Sally’s cook­books have been bought by US First Lady Michelle Obama

Green match­stick salad

Chicken cac­cia­tore

Healthy food needn’t be bor­ing … Sally Bee’s Sausage and lentil casse­role is just one of many tasty dishes

Moroc­can chicken

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