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