YORK’S legendary pantomime dame Berwick Kaler has told how his life was saved by quick thinking NHS staff after he suffered a blockage of the heart.

Berwick had been suffering from dizziness and lethargy, which he mentioned it to a nurse in a routine and unrelated appointment.

She insisted he see a doctor before he was rushed to York Hospital where doctors diagnosed him with a complete heart block.

Within 24 hours Berwick was given emergency surgery to fit a pacemaker to help his heart to beat regularly.

“When I got there they could hardly find a heartbeat,” he said, “If it hadn’t been caught when it did, I might not be around.

“I can’t believe my luck. I’m sure if I had waited another 24 hours the heart would have just given up.

“The NHS saved my life, there’s no question of that.”

York Press:

Berwick back at home                                           Picture: Frank Dwyer

Berwick, who turns 70 in October, said he was extremely impressed by the care given to him by the acute coronary unit at the hospital.

He said: “You feel so safe and reassured and they tell you everything you need to know.

“A few knew who I was but I wasn’t getting any preferential treatment. I was in a ward full of people who got the same constant care from wonderful doctors and nurses and all with good humour. It was a marvellous experience.

“I enjoyed my 48 hours there. I had a good laugh with them and I can’t thank them enough. If anyone says anything negative about the NHS to me, they’re in for trouble.

“I feel better than I have in years.”

Berwick arrived in hospital a week last Tuesday and had his operation - for which he was awake - under local anaesthetic the following day.

The whole process was surprisingly pain free, he said, with the most pain coming from removing the monitoring pads. “For a dame I’m rather hairy and when they were pulling the pads off it was painful - putting a pacemaker in was nothing.”

He had suffered a “complete heart block”, a medical emergency when electrical pulses that control the heart rate are stopped.

Despite his medical emergency the show will go on, Berwick said, with work underway to stage Cinderella at the York Theatre Royal this Christmas.

“I want to reassure the pantomime public the show will not suffer at all, if anything it will probably improve,” Berwick said, adding that pantomime bookings this year - his 38th York panto - have been “beyond belief”.

However, the experience has caused him to re-evaluate his lifestyle.

“I have given up drinking,” he said, “I’m being punished for my life of debauchery. I think the shock for everyone, especially the pantomime family, is all the time I drank and smoked and they just thought I was a machine. Well now I am.”