Gary Heeks, who ‘died’ earlier this year after a massive cardiac arrest on his 57th birthday, was given the devastating news last week by doctors that he may have just 8 months to live.
The grower, who became known as the ‘Celery King’ after taking the world record for the heaviest celery at the Malvern Autumn Show 2018, has vowed to fight the prognosis and have at least one more crack at conquering records with his giant vegetables.
"I talk to them every morning and say ‘come on my beauties, you look incredible."
Five Guinness World Records in total were smashed at last year’s CANNA UK National Giant Vegetables Championship at the Malvern Autumn Show, including the one by Gary whose celery weighed in at 42kg.
But shortly after taking the title, Gary had a terrifying massive cardiac arrest as he celebrated turning 57 with his family on April 24 this year.
“I actually died on my birthday,” said Gary, from Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. “I was just sat opening my cards and I said to my wife Valerie ‘I don’t feel right’.”
Gary collapsed and his daughter Rachael acted quickly, giving her dad CPR for 30 minutes until paramedics arrived and he was transported to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where he spent a number of weeks.
Gary had another four cardiac arrests while in hospital before he was able to be stabilised and given an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), which acts as both a pacemaker and defibrillator.
Gary has long had heart problems and estimates he has had some 20 heart attacks.
But he has never been perturbed from vegetable growing and has been using his two allotments and two acre patch of land where he grows his giant veg – or “big girls” as he calls them – to help him stay as fit as possible, especially since April.
However, during another hospital appointment in August the Heek family were dealt a further blow.
“The cardiologist told me ‘Gary, there’s not much else we can do, your heart has deteriorated too much’,” said Gary.
“He said I could have between six to eight months, but I’m a fighter and I’m going to defy that.
“I’ll be going to the Malvern Autumn Show to compete again in the giant vegetable championship, and I’m aiming for the year after too!
“I can’t just sit around here. I’m going to enjoy every single day, and I love growing vegetables.”
The growing expert, who has been growing vegetables in allotments for 17 years, but has only been taking on the challenge of giant vegetables for the last five, loves getting out into his allotments and visits them at least two to three times a week.
“I feel so good after I have been tending to my vegetables. When you’re there you just have no worries, it’s my little escape,” he said.
Growing giant veg is not a simple task and he says it takes a full year to properly grow a world record-worthy vegetable. While there is a science to growing them, one of the most important things Gary says he does is to give them daily words of encouragement.
“I talk to them every morning and say ‘come on my beauties, you look incredible. I have been told I’m losing it,” he laughed.
Gary is currently growing a giant marrow and red cabbage amongst others, and the latter he thinks could well bag him another world record at the Malvern Autumn Show.
Colossus cabbages the size of cars, massive marrows, long leeks and incredible carrots will be a feast for the eyes once again at the show, which runs from September 28-29 at the Three Counties Showground in Malvern.
“I’ll be there again this year with the whole family, my two daughters Claire and Rachael and my wife Valarie. It’s a great day out for us, and we’ve made some memories over the last few years,” he said.
• Tickets for the Malvern Autumn Show are now on sale, with prices starting at £18 in advance. Kids under 16 go free and group tickets are also available - For more information, please visit www.malvernautumn.co.uk