Mr Jagabardeen, 47, with his wife Ghairun Nisha, 44. -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND LIM

Mr Jagabardeen Abdul Sathar, 47, a Singaporean Indian Muslim, suffered a heart attack two years ago and had to undergo a bypass surgery.

WAKE-UP calls do not land much more brutally than the one that hit Mr Jagabardeen Abdul Sathar on March 17, 2008. Early that morning, one of his older brothers, Abdul Aziz, died of a heart attack after battling heart disease and diabetes for over five years. He was 54.

The family gave him a Muslim burial that same afternoon.

He was the second of Mr Jagabardeen's eight brothers to succumb to heart disease. Another older brother, Mohammed Ally, had also died of heart failure at age 52 three years earlier.

But worse was to come. An hour after Mr Jagabardeen had been on the phone talking about the day's events with his younger brother, Mohammed Yusoff, the phone rang again.

It was Mohammed Yusoff's wife telling him that her husband had complained of severe chest pains and collapsed. An ambulance was rushing him to Changi General Hospital.

Mr Jagabardeen got into his van and sped to the hospital. But his brother, who was only 42, was pronounced dead on arrival.

Losing two brothers in a row devastated Mr Jagabardeen and he threw himself into his transport business, which did home delivery service for department stores, to get over his grief.

Two months later, he felt a tightening in his chest. But he dismissed it as the strain of working 15-hour days.

'I did my usual. Take two Panadols and a strong kopi-O.'

But a few days later, he suffered a minor heart attack when he was bowing down for prayers at the mosque. 'I felt like somebody was sitting on top of my chest and I broke out in sweat.'

But the feeling passed after 10 minutes and he downed his usual kopi-O and two Panadols to ease the pain.

But the pain persisted. So he dropped in at the polyclinic the next day to do an ECG. What the doctor told him next came as a shock, despite his three brothers having died of heart disease.

'It really hit me when she told me that I had suffered a heart attack. I thought: 'Can't be. I work so hard. I do manual work carrying goods.''

An ambulance rushed him to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where he underwent an emergency angiogram that showed nine blockages. The X-ray of his blood vessels revealed several places where his arteries were so blocked that the blood had slowed to a trickle.

He was transferred to the National Heart Centre Singapore to await bypass surgery. But after a few days, he felt better and began questioning if surgery was necessary.

His attending doctor, Dr Kenny Sin, head of cardiothoracic surgery, warned him against postponement. But desperate to salvage the contracts he had lost while in hospital, he got himself discharged and returned to work.

Less than a month later, he had difficulty breathing again. The next day, he underwent bypass surgery.

Dr Sin harvested healthy blood vessels from his legs and connected them to the arteries in his heart to reroute the blood flow to and from his heart, bypassing his three blocked arteries. He was discharged after six days and rested for six weeks at home.

Meanwhile, he kept replaying Dr Sin's advice in his head - coronary bypass surgery does not cure the underlying heart disease that caused blockages in the first place.

He knew significant lifestyle changes were in order. After a few days back at work, he decided to choose his life over money. He wound up his transport business and rested for eight months.

'It is sad but it is when you are close to death that you think of what is really important in your life. I realised how I had been giving so little time to the most important people in my life - my wife and three kids.'

He started working part-time as a driver in a friend's transport company. Today, he works full-time as a warehouse executive.

He has given up smoking, but admits to taking the occasional puff. 'It used to be one pack a day. Now I keep one pack for a month, two months.'

He now eats mostly fish and vegetables. 'I used to just walk into the nearest Muslim stall and order mutton beriani or chicken beriani or worse roti prata with egg. It's OK to eat that once in a long while, but not every day.'

When he rides his motorcycle to work, he parks farther away to force himself to walk. His weight has since dropped from 78kg to 73kg.

When March 17 swings by, he knows he will be thinking of the brothers he lost.

'I still feel sad when I think of them. But I also realise how lucky I am to have survived a heart attack.

'Our health is so important but we pay so little attention to it.'

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.