Andrew Denton has opened up on his life-saving heart surgery in detail for the first time, with his wife revealing her fears for her TV star husband’s life at the time.
Denton was rushed into surgery in August 2017 after doctors found four serious blockages in and around his heart. While he has now insisted he never contemplated not surviving the major surgery, his wife – Aussie journalist Jennifer Byrne – admitted she felt “terrified” the whole time.
Speaking in an exclusive chat with the Sydney Morning Herald, Denton revealed that three of the blockages were on the main artery, also known as ‘the widowmaker’ – which he joked is likely a hint it’s “a bad one”.
He was immediately forced to undergo a a quadruple bypass, which comes with serious risks – and one in 50 who undergo the operation die.
The TV star, 59, had been due to fly to Melbourne the following Monday to begin lobbying for voluntary assisted dying legislation in Victoria – which has since been passed – and it would have meant 16-hour days of hard work. However, the trip was cancelled as he underwent the surgery.
Had he not had tests for ‘a few weeks of indigestion’ – which led to the heart diagnosis – Denton admitted to the news outlet that he “definitely would have had some sort of heart attack,” if he’d gone on the trip unaware, adding: “Probably a fatal one.”
While his wife Jennifer declined to be interviewed by the news outlet alongside her husband, she sent in a detailed note describing her fears at the time.
“Andrew was upbeat, hopeful, cracking terrible jokes. I was terrified,” she admitted in the letter.
She described holding her husband’s hand as he was wheeled on a gurney into surgery, before she had to try and keep herself busy for several hours as he had the bypass. Shockingly, he ended up needing a fifth bypass, which further prolonged the agony.
Afterwards, as he recovered in intensive care, Jennifer was reportedly warned to wait an hour for his ‘post-op pallor’ to go and for him to look more himself, but she misunderstood the advice and went straight in.
“He was deathly still, his skin a waxy white, his face grey-green, the only sound the constant pump and hiss of the tubes keeping him alive,” she wrote to the news outlet. “I sang him tuneless songs, recited rhymes from our son’s childhood, the familiar intimacies of the long-time couple; grappling hooks really, hoping to haul him back into the living world.
“Not a flicker. I still occasionally have nightmares about that desolate hour.”
Denton made an incredible recovery and was out of hospital within a week, with Jennifer noting how she wrote in her diary that day: “Andrew Out. Hallelujah.”