How a bad fall saved Bruce Forsyth’s life

Bruce Forsyth is a national treasure but, like many 87-year-olds, has an occasional fall. When he had one late last year, it left his face heavily bruised and him badly shaken up but — quite by chance — also saved his life. Subsequent tests to try to find out why he had fallen revealed he had two aneurysms of his major blood vessels that could have burst at any time and killed him.

An aneurysm is an abnormal bulge in the wall of an artery. Normally, the walls of arteries are thick and muscular, allowing them to withstand a large amount of pressure. Occasionally, however, a weak area develops. This allows the pressure within the artery to push outwards, creating a bulge or ballooned area called an ‘aneurysm’.

Aneurysms can form in any blood vessel, but occur most commonly in the aorta, the largest artery in the body that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. In Forsyth’s case, he not only had an aneurysm in the aorta that passes through the middle-to-low abdomen but another in a renal artery to one of his kidneys. The main risk with large aneurysms is if they rupture. Because the artery wall thins at this spot, it is fragile and may burst under stress and this is a catastrophic, life-threatening event.

Aortic aneurysms are usually caused by a number of factors, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) which weakens arterial walls, high blood pressure, local injury to the artery and ageing. They usually cause no symptoms at all and many people with them are blissfully unaware anything is wrong until they rupture, and 85 per cent of people who experience this do not even make it to hospital before they die of catastrophic internal bleeding.

Aneurysms become dangerous and more prone to rupture when they are more than 5cm wide, and Forsyth’s luck has really held as his were between 7cm and 8cm wide — levels that would normally have ruptured some time ago in most people. Repairing them typically involves one of two methods. The first is a traditional surgical repair where the aneurysm is cut out and replaced with an artificial graft in its place. This works well for many people, although it carries a fair degree of risk.

But this method is increasingly being replaced by a newer technique called endovascular repair, where open surgery is not required and the procedure is done by passing a tube up one of the leg arteries into the aneurysm and clipping it across it. Reports suggest that this is the type of repair that Sir Bruce had and from which he continues to recover.

Studies have suggested that a routine abdominal aortic ultrasound scan in men aged 65 is worthwhile in helping detect aneurysms, which is why the NHS now has a national screening programme with surgery being offered to men found to have a significantly sized aneurysm, and follow-up scans arranged for those with slightly smaller ones. (Screening is for men as it is far more common in men than in women).

Forsyth has often talked about how much luck he has had in his life and how it has kept him in the public eye for so long. He may now realise just how close he was to that luck running out.

  • Old farts falling over. If I should ever fall (as opposed to trip, as any fit person might possibly do over an obstacle), strike me dead. A human being, at the very least, should be able to put one bluddy foot in front of the other. I don’t want to be old. Old people fill me with contempt. They are also painful to the eye. This is natural, before anyone tries to sandbag me for saying so. Even my grandparents are largely gone, now that they are husks all hollowed out. Myself: I’d rather have a heart attack and be done with it.

    • jeremy Morfey

      When I was 18, I thought 25 was past it. At 25, the point of no return to hope was about 40. At 35, I knew then I’d past the hill and that it was downhill to the grave from then on. By that time 60 was the point I’d hope euthanasia did its merciful bit. At 46, the reality struck me that I was closer to 60 than to 30, and I never really wanted to be over 50 – the age of unemployability and hopelessness, when nobody really wants you any more.

      I am now 60 – closer to 90 than to 30. Yet, at this age I feel at last at peace with myself. I know there is now no hope to regain my youth, so I may as well stop trying and hoping and just make use of the faculties I’ve still got for a while. I’ll never work again. Therefore I’ll never be able to attract a mate, so I go to sleep fantasising about humanoid android that one day I may be able to train up to perfection, which is more than I can do with a real human that’s long regarded me with disgust. Like an old car, I might get another 20 years use out of the bits that can be coaxed into life. I have the bonus of free prescriptions and eye tests and a couple of little pensions that at least pay the Council Tax. There is no future as a mortal animal, so I can put my thoughts instead to my legacy and what and whom I shall leave behind after me.

      Maybe the long-deserved heart attack will get me tonight, but my doctor tells me it’s in robust condition and may well outlast other bits of me, such as my mind and my reproductive faculties. Ho Hum.

      • Thanks for sharing the interesting comment, though I do wonder whether you really thought 25 was ‘past it’ — even as a cocky 18-year-old, you must have realized that you were not entirely yet a man. I remember thinking that I couldn’t imagine turning 30 — and then the new millenium! — but then, even a year or two can make a lot of difference when one is very young. The older one gets, the less difference a year makes in maturity, alterations in perception, accretion of important experience, etc. The only exception to that, really, is in the matter of May-October romances: the younger the pair, the less important the age gap seems, but the older the pair, the more it means that the elder is slipping into antiquity, and that’s not particularly good for the younger partner. It’s all very well being in love with a 50-year-old if you’re 30 (or 55, as in my case at that age), but when you are late 40s and he’s past 70, then you are looking at a pensioner who may be slowing down in some ways, and is starting to push up against mortality. Whether or not he’s still busy with a prestigious career (again, as in my beloved’s case) or president of the United States (as in Trump’s).

        And that brings me to my next point. You mention the possibility (or not, as you suppose) of attracting a mate. As a man, you are much more likely to find someone your own age or younger than a woman in the same position. Women tend to attract the eye of men older than themselves. But now I am late 40s, I don’t want an older man. Yet a man my own age would be much more likely to be on the lookout for more nubile flesh — and a higher 34B. It’s naturally unfair. My hubby is only 2 months my senior, so we at least are going through life’s stages together, eye to eye.

        • jeremy Morfey

          There is a lot of truth in what you write.

          I must say that there is not a great deal of difference between me at 18 and me at 60 in terms of emotional maturity – most of my tastes and attitudes were set by then. The main difference is that then, the future was boundless and not really valued, whereas I had a great reverence for the past. Now, it is the other way round.

          I have for a decade or two found it more likely to attract a teenager myself than to attract someone around your age, based purely on my desirability, rather than my own personal tastes. You explain well why, but I am also all too aware that 60 to 20 turns all too soon into 80 to 40. I am really offering the dog end of a life! I find hope in marvels of nature such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, who married a woman 40 years younger than him well in his eighties. He responded to demands on his impending frailty by going on a world tour with his wife. They had to put his prettiest female students on the top floor of buildings to try and slow him up a bit.

          • That’s funny: I’m completely the opposite: nothing about me was set at 18, except perhaps for my moral earnestness. Anyway, it’s been interesting to hear your views and experience.

          • jeremy Morfey

            We’d have hated each other if we met. I was raised a radical liberal by atheistic free-thinking parents, and my path to Christianity took a very long time. At 18, “morality” meant Mary Whitehouse, a middle-aged lady with a perm, horn-rimmed glasses, pursed lips with cracked lipstick and a handbag – such a creature was best given a wide berth! I feel the same today.

            My last girlfriend was a moral uplifter on the Irish Catholic model (although she was a schoolteacher from the Philippines). Her gorgeous hair was down to her hips and she had a hidden talent as a masseuse. I had it all night once how sinful premarital gender was, and how bad she felt about enjoying it, and what was she going to tell her pupils? I told her it was a gift from God, and was very thankful for it, but the important thing was never to forget God when making love.

            When I was married with children though, I was the moralist – I have always hated bullying and malicious behaviour and would always pick my kids up on this for as long as I was able to. Their mother, raised a Methodist, had strong feelings about drink, but adultery was always the fault of the one being cuckolded, if he was a man.

          • That’s one interpretation of ‘moral’. I meant it more broadly — more a kind of stance towards life that meant self-regulation rather than wanting to regulate others — and I’ve always been an atheist.

    • This is one of your more contemptible revelations. ‘Old people fill me with contempt’? Translate that to ‘black people’, disabled people’, ‘poor people’, ‘women’, or any other group and you’d be howled out of respectable society.

      • Callipygian

        Hardly. We all get old unless we die first. There is something healthy, natural, and inescapable in the aversion younger people generally have to the very decrepit.