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Big Heart Appeal highlights rising heart issues in younger generation

The Heart Foundation’s single biggest annual fundraiser of the year, the Big Heart Appeal, is back this month with a strong message – help us to save lives through life-saving heart research.

An image of two volunteers raising money for the Heart Foundation New Zealand's Big Heart Appeal

As heart attacks, heart failure and heart disease continue to rise, especially among our younger population, there has never been a better time to donate towards life-saving heart research and overseas training for New Zealand cardiologists, funded by the Heart Foundation.

“Heart disease claims the life of one New Zealander every 90 minutes, so it’s vital that we invest in life-saving heart research to help keep families together for longer,” says Dr Gerry Devlin, Medical Director at the Heart Foundation.

Globally, we are seeing early deaths from heart disease hitting their highest levels. 

Cases of heart attacks, heart failure and strokes among the under-75s had been declining since the 1960s, due to better prevention and management. But now we’re starting to see a reversal of six decades of progress. 

Regardless of age, gender or background, heart issues can happen to anyone.

For Natalie, a young wife, mother and nurse, her cardiac event happened on what seemed like an ordinary evening, as she was folding laundry at home. But her nursing background immediately sounded internal alarms and she knew she was experiencing something out of the ordinary.

After suffering a cardiac arrest, Natalie's health journey didn't end there. Two years later, she developed heart rhythm issues and was diagnosed with AF (Atrial Fibrillation) and SVT (Supraventricular Tachycardia).

“It was challenging to understand that I had these conditions as they were out of the blue," Natalie says. “I had no family history of heart disease or previous health issues.”

Natalie soon realised the importance of looking after her mental health in her cardiac journey.

"You feel incredibly vulnerable after a sudden health event like this," she explains. To manage her condition better, Natalie took several steps including cutting out caffeine and working on identifying stress triggers before they become overwhelming. 

"For women, especially during times of hormonal changes like childbirth, it's vital not to ignore stress and tiredness," Natalie advises. "And if there's one thing I'd like everyone to know, it's to check in with your GP or health provider if you have any concerns or notice any changes."

Faye, a 48-year-old schoolteacher at a primary school in Whanganui, epitomises the term ‘busy mum’. However, an unexpected cardiac arrest at a sports event brought her life to a screeching halt.

“It was so quick. I was ushering the kids back to a seated area and I suddenly collapsed. There were teachers with me and medics for the event, so I had an immediate response and then an ambulance came in and I got everything that I needed,” Faye recalls.

"I didn’t even know what a cardiac arrest was before it happened to me,” she says. "This knowledge needs to be out there because there are a lot of people that don’t understand about heart events – like the need for AEDs to be absolutely everywhere possible to save people’s lives.

"Yes, it was a traumatic experience, but if it had to happen then I’m just so grateful that it happened like that. Afterwards, I was flown down to the cardiology department in Wellington."

Faye woke up in the hospital in Wellington where she received an ICD defibrillator implant. The defibrillator wire runs across her chest, a constant reminder of her second chance.

Her near-death experience became a catalyst for change. Faye's school now hosts St. John’s instructors who teach students cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) techniques and what to do in emergency situations. Faye spearheaded fundraising for an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) for her school, educating her community on its use. 

"I hope that one day I can help someone else be as lucky as I was," she says.

Over the past fifty-five years, the Heart Foundation has invested more than $90 million in life-saving research along with overseas training for cardiologists, who bring their skills home to improve and save the lives of New Zealanders. 

To donate to life-saving heart research, look out for the Big Heart Appeal street collectors on Friday 23 and Saturday 24 February.

Heart disease can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Donate now to support life-saving heart research.

Donate now