Monday, 23 September 2019
FOR Guinness world record holder Gary Heeks growing giant vegetables has long been a passion.
But for the “celery king”, who claimed the record last year with a 42kg super-sized specimen, it has become a form of rehabilitation.
Mr Heeks, of Lawson Road, Henley, suffered a major heart attack on his 57th birthday in April and spent weeks in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
Since 2008 he has suffered about 20 heart attacks but this was by far the worst and he has spent the last three months slowly recovering.
Despite having to quit his job as an estate manager in Ewelme, Mr Heeks is determined not to let his health problems hold him back and is once again enjoying being outdoors tending to his giant vegetables.
He hopes to enter his celery as well as his marrows and red and green cabbages into next month’s Henley Farm and Country Show and the Malvern Autumn Show.
Mr Heeks recalled how he was opening his birthday cards on April 24 when he felt unwell. He said: “I said to my wife Val ‘I don’t feel right’ and that was the last thing I remember for two weeks.
“I was on a life support machine in intensive care for two weeks and spent another two in a high dependency unit.
“I came round in hospital with a tracheotomy still in my throat very annoyed because I couldn’t communicate or talk.
“I’ve had heart attacks before but not one where the heart has turned around and said ‘that’s enough, I’m quitting’. I think I’ve had about 20 now.”
Mr Heeks has previously had two bypasses and surgery to fit stents and has now been fitted with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, which acts as both a pacemaker and defibrillator.
He said: “It paces me, which is quite a strange feeling, but if the heart decides to stop it’ll give me a hell of a belt and hopefully get it ticking again.
“Because this ICD paces me now, I can’t go at things like I normally do. I’ve had to take a couple of steps back and retire from my work but that gives me more time to do my giant vegetables.
“A lot of people will retire and vegetate — that’s not me.”
Mr Heeks has his own private plot in Henley, which he visits two or three times a week.
He said: “I’m going to keep on growing until the day they actually have to plant me! It keeps me fit and healthy.
“Some days when I’m feeling really down because of what’s happening with my heart, it gives me a little boost.
“I feel good in myself. I’ve always worked outside so it’s second nature.”
He has already returned to showing and earlier this month took third place at the Vale of Glamorgan Show for his giant beetroot, which weighed 27lb.
He is also taking a plot in Playhatch with his friend and fellow giant vegetable grower Tim Saint.
Mr Saint, who lives in the village, is a familiar sight at the Henley Farm and Country Show, often taking first place for his giant pumpkins.
He is also the current Guinness world record holder for the heaviest red cabbage at 23.7kg, which he achieved last year.
Mr Heeks said: “I’m going to move up to the Playhatch allotments with Timmy because he can help me with the rotivating and heavy lifting that I can’t do.
“I always help and give him advice — I helped him get the record last year.
“He had been growing all cabbages for the last 10 years. I said, ‘move the plot and change how you feed them’ and he got the record, so he listens to me now!
“I can go up, have a nice chat and have a bit of banter with Timmy. I can relax and leave all my troubles behind — that’s my little escape.”
Mr Heeks added: “I saw my cardiologist last week at the John Radcliffe and he said ‘there’s not much more we can do, Gary — just go home and enjoy every day’, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
01 September 2019
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