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Grey-haired, red-eyed, pain etched across his weathered face, Mac, as he was known to his family and friends, was reeling from the body blow dealt by the loss of his son, Paul Mc Aleese, who had devotedly followed him into the Army, and paid with his life in 2009 when he was killed by a Taliban road-side bomb in Helmand, Afghanistan.At the time of the siege, John’s first wife Kim was at the family home in Hereford, watching Coronation Street, feeding seven-month-old Paul.She had signed up to do the charity walk in memory of Paul.‘Now I’m walking for both of them,’ she says quietly.'The shock and stress release huge amounts of hormones like adrenaline,' says Dr Connolly.'This squeezes the muscle in the walls of the arteries, which starves some parts of the heart of blood.Certainly Mc Aleese’s death last week is a timely reminder of the heavy price that so many still pay for serving their country.
Behind the scenes, 17-year-old Paul Mc Aleese was preparing to step into his father’s Army boots.
'We see this in older ladies who have lost their husbands, but it's as likely to happen in older parents who have lost children.' At first the symptoms — arm and chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath — are so similar to those of a normal heart attack it is difficult for doctors to tell the difference, says Dr Connolly.
On closer investigation, scans reveal that patients do not have the cholesterol build-up of classic heart attacks.
It is 25 years since it was identified but only now is the condition more widely diagnosed.
Studies by Imperial College have estimated two per cent of the 300,000 'heart attacks' each year in the UK are caused by the syndrome.
If caught early, patients can be given such drugs as beta blockers to stop adrenaline compressing the arteries, allowing the heart to return to normal within a week or so.