MICKEY Walker has always been a fit man.
The former professional footballer, who started his career at Sheffield Wednesday as a teenager, has always kept trim, even after moving into coaching.
Ironically, Mickey, aged 67, Doncaster Rovers’ director of football, was at the gym when he was struck by a sudden heart attack.
“It was February 13 – clearly not a lucky day for me,” he said.
“I’ve never smoked, never drunk much, so it was not expected.
“I was working out at our training ground, doing some light weights circuits with Mal Purchase, our team fitness coach.
“He had been helping me with training for five or six weeks, just keeping fit.
“My son Carl had come along as a guest and was training with me.
“But that day I felt like I wasn’t really doing as well as usual, a bit lethargic.
“I felt like I had indigestion – it wasn’t a stabbing pain, I just didn’t feel that well.”
Mickey put down the weights and sat down.
“Carl said to me, ‘Dad are you OK?’ I told him to go and get the physio, and he called 999.”
The ambulance took just 11 minutes to reach Cantley Park.
“It felt like 11 days to me, but it was really very quick,” said Mickey.
“Dean Saunders was with me, ‘keeping me motivated’ as he would put it.”
The paramedics put Mickey in the ambulance and made a vital decision not to take him to the nearest hospital, Doncaster Infirmary, but instead to go straight to the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield.
The Northern General’s cardiothoracic centre is one of the biggest and best in the country, and has a specialist heart attack centre, with a team ready to rush people into surgery.
Mickey said: “The paramedic, Liz, told me I was having ‘an event of the heart’, so I knew it must be serious.
“We arrived at the Northern General and I was straight in theatre.”
Consultant Dr Stephen Campbell and his team performed an angiogram and realised Mickey had suffered an acute myocardial infarction.
A blocked artery had interrupted the blood supply to Mickey’s heart.
Within minutes Dr Campbell had started a procedure called angioplasty.
They forced a balloon into his artery, inflating it to expand the blood channel, and put a mesh stent in to keep it open.
Mickey was conscious through the whole experience.
“Dr Campbell told me there was a high risk with the operation, but it didn’t seem like I had much choice!
“I was on morphine, so was quite drowsy, but I was awake through it all.”
Incredibly, just an hour and a half after Carl dialled 999, Mickey was out of theatre and recovering on a ward.
“They were magnificent,” Mickey said. “By getting me to Sheffield so quickly there was very little damage to my heart.”
Mickey stayed at the Northern General overnight, before being transferred to Doncaster Infirmary’s coronary care department for two days.
And then, just three days after the heart attack, he was back home.
“The Cantley coronary care team took over,” he said.
“They came round to see me and gave me a manual to work to and some light physio.
“It was slow going at first – even going up the drive was difficult.
“But I’ve done as I’ve been told, which is unusual for me, and taken it easy.”
The forced respite has given Mickey the opportunity to spend time with wife Sharon, 52, son Carl, 39 and daughter Lisa, 36 and Carley, 25.
“My family has always been very important to me, and they have been fantastic through all of this.
“Sharon has been wonderful. On day one she took my mobile phone away and took everything in hand.
“It must have been terrible for her, but she has dealt with it in an amazing way.”
But it is for the ambulance staff, paramedics, nurses and doctors that Mickey has the highest praise.
“People seem to have a problem with the NHS,” he said.
“But they don’t realise what a fabulous service we have got in this country.
“It is second to none. The genuine care they feel for you is unbelievable. The staff, both in Sheffield and Doncaster, were amazing.”
He added: “S6 has always been very good to me. I started my football career at Hillsborough as a kid, and then I was back there for this.”
Mickey starts back at work at the Keepmoat Stadium today, having been given the all-clear by his doctor.
“They say I have the heart of a lumberjack now,” he said.
“I just need some trees to cut down!
“The club has been fantastic – I’ve had so many messages of support from the fans.
“And the chairman, the chief executive and the board have been brilliant.
“It’s been so easy to take the time to recover, because there has been no pressure at all from them for me to rush back.”
Now Mickey has his eye on next season, getting out of League One and back into the Championship.
But he takes a moment to reflect.
“Everybody has a little bit of luck in this world, and I’ve had mine. And it is down to the people who helped me on that day.”