People recovering from major heart surgery are usually advised to watch their diet and not to overdo things but the benefits of support from others can be limited.

Siobhan Ryan speaks to a man who has had surgery and now spends his time helping others.

Tony Plumb was in his 50s when his heart stopped during exploratory surgery on the operating table and he had to have a quadruple bypass.

He ended up staying in hospital for several weeks recovering from his operation. When he arrived home and started to regain his strength, it was the support from his local Zipper Club that helped to speed up his recovery.

When he moved to Sussex in the Nineties, Mr Plumb, 67, saw there was no local branch of the club in the county so decided to set up one of his own.

The club, which is affiliated to the British Cardiac Patients Association, has gone from strength to strength and now has about 200 members.

The Zipper nickname comes from the row of stitches all heart patients have following major surgery.

The group is dedicated to helping all cardiac patients before and after an operation, their families and their carers.

A national medical study in 1993 showed that support was a major factor in increasing the chances of survival after a heart attack and so it was a vital aid to recovery.

Mr Plumb, from Lancing, said: "We are constantly trying to make people aware that we exist and of the support that we provide.

"We want the people who need us to be able to contact us at the beginning of their illness and not, as often happens, after the event or when they become desperate.

The group meets twice a month at Southwick Community Centre and there is another branch in Eastbourne.

Mr Plumb is also hoping to set up a branch in Chichester so people do not have to travel too far to meetings.

Most meetings often have a guest speaker and cover a variety of topics such as the effect heart conditions can have on other members of the family.

The group raises thousands of pounds every year to buy essential equipment for local hospitals.

Mr Plumb said: "Not everyone needs help and support but some patients find their experience is daunting and frightening. They may lose their confidence and feel alone and isolated.

"It helps to talk to someone who has had similar experiences that are very often almost identical.

"It is our way of showing patients that there is life after surgery."

The group holds its fifth annual meeting at Southwick community centre on February 21 at 2.30pm to coincide with the British Heart Foundation launch of a campaign to mark its 40th anniversary.

It has commissioned a research project which aims to pinpoint the rogue genes which contribute to coronary heart disease so it can get a clearer understanding of the genetic factors which will help to eradicate the condition in the future.

It is also conducting a series of awareness campaigns urging people to look at their lifestyle and see what needs to be done to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Regular exercise is essential for a healthy heart.

Regular heavy drinking can also cause problems and people are also urged to routinely check their blood pressure.

Smoking is one of the main factors which causes heart disease. If people in the UK did not smoke, about 10,000 fewer men and women of working age would die from heart attacks each year.

Mr Plumb can be contacted on 01903 753633.

The British Heart Foundation can be contacted on 020 7935 0185.