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Heart Foundation Big Heart Appeal kicks off

Big names, big hearts, big stories. The Heart Foundation’s biggest fundraiser of the year is back this month with some well-known New Zealanders sharing their heart stories to highlight the Big Heart Appeal and the importance of investment in heart research to save lives.

"With heart disease claiming the life of one New Zealander every 90 minutes, it's vital that we invest in life-saving research to help keep families together for longer," says Dr Gerry Devlin, Medical Director at the Heart Foundation. "Through the support of donations, we're able to invest in heart research and overseas fellowships for cardiologists, who are able to train at some of the best hospitals in the world and bring back those skills and new treatments to save lives here."

Heart disease can affect anyone, anywhere, at any time. That's why the Heart Foundation is calling for New Zealanders to donate whatever they can towards funding heart research during February either online ( or through the thousands of Big Heart Appeal street collectors across New Zealand on Friday 24 and Saturday 25 February.

Former All Blacks and Warriors doctor, Dr John Mayhew, was completing a workout at his local gym five years ago when he suffered a cardiac arrest, a serious heart event that occurs when the heart stops pumping blood around the body.

"I don't remember anything, but I hear they ripped off my shirt on the floor of the gym and successfully resuscitated me," says Dr Mayhew. "I woke up after a three-day spell in Intensive Care on a ventilator and still feel lucky that there were people around to help and I have no neurological problems."

He says incredible advancements have been made in treating heart disease. "We are lucky these days to have a wide range of treatments and medications for heart disease, all of which are helping New Zealanders to live longer and healthier lives," he says.

Award-winning singer and entertainer Suzanne Prentice believes if it had not been for the quick actions of her husband and hospital staff, she may not have survived a heart attack in 2022.

"I had just got home from a meeting and had dinner as usual when suddenly I began having pain in my neck and back," Suzanne says. "All of a sudden, the pain became very intense, and I was on the floor."

Her husband called an ambulance immediately, and she was taken to Southland Hospital.

"Once I was at the hospital, in the early hours of the morning, I went into cardiac arrest, and before I knew it, I was heading for Dunedin."

Suzanne received helpful advice from the Heart Foundation regarding lifestyle changes to look after herself and successfully manage her heart condition, which was inherited from both her parents.

"I was extremely lucky," she says. "It could have gone either way, but I have been given a second chance, for which I'll be eternally grateful. A cardiac arrest certainly makes you look at life differently."

Improvements in the management of conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease and heart rhythm disorders are examples of some of the advances that have been made to improve heart health outcomes for New Zealanders, and they wouldn't be possible without the generous public donations the Heart Foundation has received. 

"I want to help continue these incredible advances and enable the researchers, innovators, doctors and nurses to keep improving heart health for New Zealanders and their families," she says.

Adventure fisherman, entrepreneur and father of four, Andrew Hill suffered the first of three heart attacks at 40 years old.

"I was lying in bed, feeling like my whole chest was closing up, and I could barely breathe," Andrew recalls.

Five years after his first heart attack, Andrew was out on his jet ski when he experienced a similar discomfort in his chest.

"I was all alone, and that was quite scary," he says. "I rode home without catching any fish, which isn't normal for me."

After making it safely off the water, Andrew returned to the hospital and had stents put in.

Andrew took on all the advice he received after his first two heart attacks and was very committed to taking his medication and living a healthy lifestyle. But despite this, Andrew's shortness of breath returned three years after his second heart attack and two weeks before Christmas 2019. He had experienced another heart attack. This time he needed double bypass surgery.

"I have huge respect for the New Zealand cardiologists and heart surgeons who are saving lives and giving those with heart conditions a better quality of life."

DJ, dancer and choreographer Lance Savali lives with a heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia or SVT, which he says has given him his fair share of scary moments on stage.

"My heartbeat is way faster than a normal heart," says Lance. "This is not easy to manage when you're dancing up a storm on stage."

Keyhole surgery has helped Lance maintain his active lifestyle, and a good understanding of his condition enables him to manage it.

Now he wants to give back and support the Heart Foundation, his charity of choice for the new season of Treasure Island: Fans vs Faves, and encourage New Zealanders to support the Big Heart Appeal.

To donate, look out for the Heart Foundation Big Heart Appeal street collectors on Friday 24 and Saturday 25 February. Or, to donate online anytime, please visit

Thank you for your generosity in helping save lives.