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Local man credits Barwon Health for smoking cessation

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Geelong retiree Tony “Swampy” Faulkner thought he was bulletproof until a heart attack last year and kidney cancer surgery in April made him finally stop and listen to medical advice.

Mr Faulkner estimates he has smoked more than 1.5 million cigarettes in his lifetime, but he’ll go smoke-free for World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, a day that focuses on the impact tobacco has on the cardiovascular health of people worldwide. 

The 61-year-old has always been seen as a tough bloke, once playing a game of footy at 13 on the same afternoon his appendix was removed.

Mr Faulkner said he never heeded the warnings of GPs and had smoked for 50 years - about 100 cigarettes a day for most of them. 

“You think you’re bulletproof and then one day you realise you’re not,” he said.

“I’ve had my whole world tipped upside-down in six months, but the Barwon Health staff were all fantastic and went out of their way to make sure I understood everything that needed to be done and what caused the cancer.

“There was one common denominator – the smoking.

“I went into ICU and woke up three days later than I should have because they couldn’t get the tube in and out of my airway, all because of the smoking.

“I wouldn’t have even taken it seriously until one nurse sat down with me one day and she laid the law down, telling me it didn’t matter what drugs I took, because they wouldn’t work if I had nicotine in my system.

“A doctor in ICU spent hours talking to me, explaining it so I understood it all, and it boiled down to giving up smoking.

“I went from 100 a day to less than 20 when I found out I had kidney cancer, and right after my operation I went down to one in 24 hours, and now it’s easy to go a week without a smoke.”

Mr Faulkner said since giving up cigarettes, his life had drastically improved from his health to diet and fitness.

“There’s food I haven’t eaten in years that tastes good now, water tastes better, and now I can walk up and down a hill without batting an eyelid,” he said.

“If you’re a smoker and you’re here at the hospital for anything heart, blood, lungs, cancer-related, you’re wasting their time.

“It’s important to have these conversations and absorb what you’re told, understand why you can’t do this and understand it’s never too late to change your lifestyle.

“People with major cancer problems aren’t even going to see their grandkids because they won’t listen to what they’re being told.”

Barwon Health urologist Richard Grills said surgical risks were significantly increased with smokers.

“For every cigarette you don’t smoke, and every day you don’t smoke before surgery, it helps reduce operative and recovery risks,” Mr Grills said.

“Surgery and hospital stays are a good kick-start to quit smoking because you can’t smoke in the hospital and we have the resources and staff to support you in that noble quest.

 “I think everybody working in healthcare has a significant role to play in this, including everyone who has contact with a patient before, during, and after surgery.

“It wasn’t that long ago that hospitals had designated smoking areas, so people think about it a lot more now.

“A serious health issue really drives home all aspects of improving your health and lifestyle.

“After smokers get through the craving, they’re always surprised how much better they feel.”