“I’m alive because of heart research, and for that I’m forever grateful”

Show your big heart and support research at the Heart Foundation Big Heart Appeal street collection, on Friday 19 and Saturday 20 February 2021.

Peggy and her husband

Heart disease is the single biggest killer of men and women in New Zealand, and the Heart Foundation is calling for people to show their big heart, by supporting its Big Heart Appeal street collection.

With your support, and the Heart Foundation’s ongoing commitment to supporting research, we can keep saving lives and improve the quality of life for the 170,000 New Zealanders living with heart disease.

"We have a long and proud record of research investment, which has improved the heart health of all New Zealanders for more than 50 years, but we still have much more work to do," says Heart Foundation Medical Director, Dr Gerry Devlin.

One Auckland grandmother’s heart keeps pumping thanks to medical advances.

"Years ago, people who were diagnosed with global heart failure were only given a maximum of five years to live. It was like a death sentence. But thanks to research, people like me can start to build a different life,” says Peggy.

Peggy was only 57-years'-old, active and seemingly healthy, until she had a cardiac arrest and was diagnosed with global heart failure due to cardiomyopathy.

"A flu virus from a few years ago had attacked my heart, but nobody knew what it was," says Peggy. "I was breathless walking upstairs, and I thought I must be very unfit, so I increased my walking and swimming. We thought it was bronchial asthma."

Then one night, Peggy started having trouble breathing, and after many tests and scans, she was sent off for an echocardiogram.

"That's when all hell broke loose. I looked at the screen and there was a big black hole in my left ventricle. They found my heart was functioning at 75 per cent. They said if I'd gone to the gym, I probably would have died."

When Peggy had her cardiac arrest, it was a time in history when she could benefit from decades of research on how to treat heart conditions.

Peggy received an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) which can detect and correct her heart's rate and rhythm. If her heart is at risk of cardiac arrest it will deliver a shock.

"Through research I'm able to have an ICD and I'm able to be alive, and that I’m forever grateful for. Probably, people want to know specifics when they’re giving money. How is it going to help? So, I'd like to use myself as an example to say, if they hadn't progressed and got ICDs, I probably wouldn't be alive today," says Peggy.

The Heart Foundation has granted 4.2 million dollars of funding for heart research and specialist training for New Zealand cardiologists, bringing the total awarded by the charity since its formation in 1968, to more than 78 million dollars.

"We see incredible advances in technology, in our understanding of the heart, and in ways to prevent and treat heart disease. But the reason this research is so exciting is because I know firsthand the transformational impact it has on people's lives. People like Peggy, who would not be alive today without the benefits of heart research. We urgently need your help to continue to fund this life-saving research," Dr Gerry Devlin.

Some of the research the Heart Foundation has funded to help people like Peggy are:

  • An international collaboration lead by Heart Foundation researcher Professor Rob Doughty which has debunked the world medical view on heart failure. The research has transformed our understanding of the occurrence, death rates and risk of different types of heart failure. Heart failure affects around 80,000 New Zealanders. These findings will create improvements in treatment and care of heart failure for these people, and tens of thousands more in the future.
  • Heart Foundation Fellow, Dr Sarah Appleby, is exploring whether a protein called myoregulin could be used to identify and diagnose heart disease early. Her research is measuring myoregulin to see if it is altered in patients with heart disease and if it can be used as a new biomarker to help early diagnosis. There's even a possibility that myoregulin could be used to treat heart disease.
  • New research by Dr Sarah Harris is looking at the link between heart disease and premature birth. The research is exploring further evidence that adults who were born prematurely, and mothers who give birth to a premature baby, are at increased risk of heart disease. These findings may influence New Zealand's national guidelines for screening mothers and babies for heart disease and could help ensure that premature birth does not lead to a premature death later in life. Street collectors will be in your neighbourhood for the Heart Foundation Big Heart Appeal street collection, on Friday 19 and Saturday 20 February 2021.

You can donate online, or by calling the Heart Foundation on 0800 830 100.

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