News & stories, The McNee Family’s Heart-Stopping Story of Recovery and Resilience

September 2023

For Shawn McNee, a heart attack at age 47 was a huge wake-up call.

To be honest, I should have seen it coming," Shawn said.

"But even though there's a long history of heart disease in my family, I never thought it would happen to me. I didn't recognize the symptoms. And I wasn't prepared for how devastating it could have been."

Shawn McNee, grateful patient and Cardiac Rehab program participant.
Shawn McNee, grateful patient and Cardiac Rehab program participant.

When Shawn got home that evening from a stressful day at work, everything seemed fine. But after dinner, he felt the telltale pain across his chest and down his arm.

"It was easy to brush the whole thing off as just anxiety," he said.

Shawn's wife, an Emergency Room nurse at the Saint John Regional, jumped into action and drove him to the hospital.

On the way there, Shawn couldn't get settled. He couldn't get his arm comfortable. "It was a weird feeling. Nothing dramatic. I just felt off," he said.

Thankfully, the world-class medical professionals there understood exactly what was happening.

"It just blew up with activity," Shawn said. "It seemed like 25 to 30 nurses all around me. Pumping meds into me. Giving me the nitro drip. My wife's crying, and I'm telling her, 'It's okay, Amy. You know this team. They'll take care of me.' It was all a huge rush."

Shawn's heart was 99% blocked.

“My story could have ended right then and there,” he said. “I could have died and left behind my wife and young kids. I’m so grateful for everyone who worked to save my life that day!”

Nearly 1 in 10 New Brunswickers over the age of 20 is diagnosed with heart disease.

And for Shawn's family, heart disease hits particularly close to home.

Robert McNee is Shawn's father. Living and working in Uptown Saint John, he walked a lot. But around 2001, he started having trouble climbing stairs. He had three stents put in his heart to open blockages. Then, in 2020, just as the world was closing because of COVID, he had open heart triple bypass surgery to repair damage to his heart.

Robert's father also had heart disease. His youngest brother had a heart attack and surgery in 2022. And unfortunately, his sister died from a massive heart attack at 39, leaving behind a young family.

"I don't want that to happen to my kids," Shawn said.

Why does Cardiac rehabilitation matter?

While it's easy to imagine cardiac patients' physical challenges, we don't often think about the mental and emotional impacts of a heart attack or heart surgery.
It's not uncommon for patients to feel anxious or depressed as they adjust to life with a severe health problem.

"There were times when I felt the whole woe is me – why is this happening to me? thing," Shawn said. "A heart attack and surgery can really throw you for a loop. I'm grateful that my family was there to support me. And I'm so thankful for the cardiac rehab program.

Cardiac rehabilitation 
is a program of exercise, education and counselling that helps people heal after a heart attack or other conditions. It's personalized for each patient and helps them rebuild their strength and confidence and overcome worries and doubts.

For Shawn, cardiac rehab connected him with a supportive community of professionals and peers who understood what he was going through.

While completely free of charge for patients, it costs close to $800,000 each year to run the cardiac rehab program.

But, as Shawn said, "It's simply priceless if you ask me."

“The program is much more than rehab — it’s also prevention. It gave me the tools I need to help my kids grow up healthier than I did. That’s exactly the kind of preventative medicine we need here in New Brunswick.” -Shawn McNee, grateful cardiac rehab participant

Staffing and program delivery costs for the cardiac rehab program are covered by the Provincial Government. But there are so many additional expenses:

  • Treadmills & exercise bikes for the gym
  • Personal fitness trackers & scales
  • Heart rate & blood pressure monitors
  • Conferences & professional development for staff
  • Expanding the program to other regions

Without the kindness of generous donors, the program wouldn’t be possible.

About 470 people benefit from the cardiac rehab program each year. And there are so many more people who need this valuable support to help them recover from a heart attack or heart surgery.

Thanks to kind donors, patients in Sussex now have a cardiac rehab program in their area. And the hope is to expand the program to other regions, too.

Stepping up to help more patients and families
After his heart attack and surgery, Shawn knew he wanted to give back to the people who saved his life.

When he heard about the Saint John Cardiac Rehab Walk — an annual fundraiser supporting the cardiac rehab program — he told his family, "We should do it. We should all get more active." And everybody jumped on board.

Shawn McNee's family really stepped up to support the September Saint John Cardiac Rehab Walk fundraiser! They even had their own team t-shirts made. Way to put your hearts and soles into it, everyone!
Shawn McNee's family really stepped up to support the September Saint John Cardiac Rehab Walk fundraiser! They even had their own team t-shirts made. Way to put your hearts and soles into it, everyone!


"I'll admit, I was a bit hesitant to join everyone at the cardiac rehab walk," Shawn's dad, Robert, said. "I hadn't walked in a long time. But I wanted to support Shawn and his recovery. That was my get-up-and-go. I got a couple of kilometres in that day, and I feel pretty proud about that! I owe it to Shawn and his positive example."

As a fellow cardiac patient, Bob Glynn, Shawn's father-in-law, was keen to give back, too.

In 2004, Bob was out of town at a golf tournament when he felt pressure in his chest. It's just indigestion, he thought. He golfed all day and hung out with his fellow golfers that evening. The next day, it was extremely hot, and by the 10th hole, Bob started feeling like his whole body was breaking down.

"My wife said to me, 'What's wrong with you? You look terrible.' And I said I think I might have a little heat stroke. We left dinner early and drove home. I just wanted to lie down, but my wife said, 'No, no. We're going to the E.R.' Turns out I had a blockage in my heart. I had a stent put in about two days later."

“The cardiac rehab program gave me the hope — and the heart — to overcome one of the most difficult challenges of my life. Your gift today will make sure others have the same caring, supportive team surrounding them, too.” – Shawn McNee

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