The Stevenage street food entrepreneur whose heart stopped for over an hour
When Joe Baxter, 31, was made redundant due to Covid-19, he was motivated to embark on a more fulfilling career. Following his lifelong passion for catering and meeting new people, last year he opened his own fish and chip street food truck – Baxter’s. Touring Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and music festivals in his now popular street food van, Joe serves up delicately fried cod, halloumi loaded chips and mac’n’cheese tots.
: Latest food and drink news in Herts “We’re going to do six figures this year, and I think that’s pretty good,” Joe said. But despite the laughing with customers and salting fries, life is now considerably different for the 31-year-old.
Joe regularly has to empty a bag connected to his tummy via an ileostomy because seven years ago his large bowel was removed following a shock cardiac arrest. Get the latest Herts news direct to your inbox by signing up to our newsletter below:
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He still feels the effects of his heart condition to this day. He must think carefully about what he eats, he needs to monitor his salt, electrolyte and magnesium levels and, as he puts it bluntly, he can’t do too much, or he could die. Joe has since worked with the British Heart Foundation and other charities to raise awareness for heart conditions in young people because to say his cardiac arrest came as a surprise to the then 24-year-old would be an understatement.
In 2014, Joe was working at a fish and chip shop in Cambridge when his heart stopped working, despite being “fit as a fiddle” and active. He was rushed to hospital. His grandma and sister were instructed to get in a police car that quickly drove to where Joe had been taken; the driver was informed by the doctor there was a high chance Joe would die and someone needed to be there.
According to the London Ambulance Service, just 10.8 per cent of people who have cardiac arrests outside of hospital survive.
Baxter’s serves cod and fries, halloumi loaded chips and deep-fried mac’n’cheese (Image: Rhiannon Moore)
Joe’s heart had stopped beating for over an hour. Doctors put him into a medically-induced coma to encourage his organs to recover. Due to a lack of blood flow, his large bowel failed and had to be removed.
His girlfriend of two months and now-fiance, Rhiannon, was told that Joe might not remember her when he came out of the coma. When Joe finally awoke, he was met with a very different lifestyle. He was too weak to sit up in bed.
He was told he has a bag connected to his belly that collects waste from food and has a heart condition called arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). “It basically means the right side of my heart is pretty crap,” Joe explained. To manage his heart condition, Joe was fitted with an implanted cardioverter defibrillator, which is like a pacemaker and defibrillator in his chest. It charges and resets his heart rate with a ‘shock’ when it goes into a bad rhythm.
ARVC (arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy) is a rare familial disorder (Image: Rhiannon Moore)
After three months in hospital, Joe was finally sent home.
His mental health took a turn and he was diagnosed with PTSD. “I didn’t dare leave the house because I didn’t want to get a shock when I wasn’t at home. I was really struggling.
I just didn’t understand anything about my health. It was crazy,” Joe said. The couple moved in with Rhiannon’s mum in Harpenden because they couldn’t afford rent.
Joe lost his car, his flat. He was finding life “a little bit too difficult”. But as his strength improved, he was able to move around more and eventually leave the house.
The pair bought a house in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, and Joe bought a food truck. “Ever since I’ve had it I’ve just been working my tail off. I feel a bit more fulfilled.
I feel anxious a lot less now. I’m meeting some great people. I’m serving great food that I’m really passionate about,” he said.
“The fact I’m still able to do what I do, I think it’s partly because I’m too stubborn to give up.” Joe explained he had a tough childhood; they didn’t have a lot. He was always driven to be successful and despite his health, that ambition hasn’t left him.
Joe’s dream is to one day set up a charity to help diagnose heart conditions in young people early.
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