Features, Mental, Physical, Truckie Profiles, Truckies’ health and wellbeing

Truckie ‘grateful to be alive’ after open-heart surgery

A truckie based in Bathurst, NSW has told how he’s finally back on the road after open-heart surgery – and grateful to be alive.  

“I feel like I’ve been given a second chance at life,” 50-year-old Keven Mitchell told Big Rigs.  

“I thought I’d never be able to work in the trucking industry again, but now I’m back and I have a great career.”  

Ten years ago, doctors discovered that Mitchell had a genetic defect in his heart, but medical technology wasn’t yet advanced enough for the surgery he needed.  

The interstate truckie, who is also a type 2 diabetic, was told to keep his weight down and pay close attention to his diet while he played the waiting game.  

In September 2023 – two heart attacks later – he was finally able to have open-heart surgery.  

Mitchell was partly relieved, partly terrified, and admitted he frightened himself even more by reading everything he could find about the risks involved.  

“I hadn’t realised, but they actually stop your lungs and your heart to do the surgery,” he said.  

“Thankfully my surgeon put my nerves at ease.  

“I asked him point blank how many people he had lost during operations like mine, and he said he’d done 196 surgeries so far and never lost a patient.” 

His physical recovery post-surgery was an uphill battle, and he was told not to exert himself for 12 weeks.  

“Coughing or sneezing felt like I had just been punched by the Hulk,” he shared.

“When they open your heart to pull it out to do the repair, everything gets stretched and it’s a massive undertaking to recover from that.  

“Even now, every so often I’ll get a pain in my shoulder, and it reminds me of what I’ve been through!” 

Mitchell is really enjoying his work with PHE, towing machinery to mines all around Australia. Image: Keven Mitchell

Around 75% of people experience “cardiac blues” after a heart event, with symptoms including sadness and anxiety.  

Mitchell was no exception, and said the depression that often accompanies serious heart issues is something that’s not talked about enough.  

“You really fight the black dog to get past it,” he said.  

“There’s a lot of support there for your physical recovery, but not for your mental recovery.”  

Mitchell snapped this stunning shot while passing through Glendambo in SA. Image: Keven Mitchell

Bored and feeling down, Mitchell jumped back into work as soon as his doctor gave him a green light in November 2023

“I rang my boss straight away, I climbed in a truck…and I tore what they call the ‘growth plate’, which was helping my chest knit back together. 

“I went back too early. I know I had the go-ahead from my doctor, but I also felt like my ego got involved.  

“In the trucking industry, there’s this idea of ‘We can do anything’, and if you get to a point where you’re struggling to get into the truck, you’re made to feel obsolete.” 

Mitchell loves documenting his travels around Australia. Image: Keven Mitchell

Lesson learned, Mitchell forced himself to rest and recover for another two months.

“It was hard watching all my friends on social media, getting out there and driving!” he said. 

“I wanted to be out there doing it myself. But I forced myself to wait.” 

He found a new job with industrial electrical contractors PHE in January, towing machinery to mines in SA and the NT, and he’s delighted to be back in a truck.  

“It’s a great job and a great opportunity to explore Australia,” he said. 

“I’m absolutely loving it.”

Mitchell urges other truckies to take care of their health as much as possible.  

“Heart issues and diabetes are rampant in this industry,” he said.

“I know it’s hard to have a healthy lifestyle on the highway, but I would really encourage other truckies to keep an eye on their diet and exercise and get regular check-ups at the doctor.”

He said he’s lucky that his wife and his mother prepare healthy dinners for when he’s on the road, and he incorporates exercise into his day whenever he can.

“When I have a meal break, I will go for a walk for 15 minutes while my dinner is in the oven,” he added. 

“You have to remember that your heart is like the engine of a truck. If it’s not running right, you’re not running right.” 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend