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Knowing your pulse could save your life

While still in his thirties, dad-of-three and former Flava Breakfast host Sela Alo, was diagnosed with a heart condition and now he's encouraging people to get a free pulse check as part of the Heart Foundation's atrial fibrillation awareness week.

Sela was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation leading to the revelation he had been born with a heart valve problem, which lead to his life-saving open heart surgery.

"You know, if I hadn’t been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, they wouldn't have picked up on the fact that I had mitral valve regurgitation and I wouldn't be here now. So in a way I'm kind of glad I was diagnosed with the condition."

The Heart Foundation is offering people the chance to get free pulse checks in 18 locations throughout New Zealand, during the week of 18-24 November 2019, as part of its atrial fibrillation awareness campaign.

The condition is an irregular heart rhythm, which can result in an increased risk of stroke and heart failure for some, like Sela.

"A couple of years after the open heart surgery, I had a mini-stroke on air. I didn't know what it was at the time. All I knew was that something went wrong and I was not coherent.

"I could hear what my co-host was saying to me, but I just couldn’t respond and my body sort of shut down. I remember picking up the phone to talk to a listener who had called through and I couldn't put the phone back on the hook. But within about three minutes I snapped out of it.

"I thought, I need to get this checked. I went to hospital and they ran through the tests and they diagnosed a mini-stroke because of my atrial fibrillation."

"They actually tried to stop my heart and see if they can sort it out and get it back into a regular rhythm. But that failed. So I've got this condition that I've got to deal with, and I'm dealing with it as best I can," says Sela.

"The condition can strike adults at any age and we think nearly one in 35 New Zealanders between 35 and 74 have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, so that's more than 60,000 Kiwis. It's also likely there are many more who don't know they have it, making it the most common type of heart rhythm disorder," says Heart Foundation Medical Director Dr Gerry Devlin.

"Atrial fibrillation is more common as we age. On average Māori people are more affected and tend to develop atrial fibrillation 10 years younger than non-Māori."

But the condition can affect anyone, regardless of age or ethnicity.

"I'm a Samoan New Zealander who doesn't smoke, I'm not a regular drinker, and I've got heart disease. You would think if you looked at me that I'm OK. But it goes to show that heart disease can affect anyone," says Sela.

It can be very challenging for people living with atrial fibrillation and the Heart Foundation also runs support sessions to provide a warm, supportive environment that allows families to hear from experts and meet others who are living with the condition.  

Sela's advice on coping with heart disease is to cherish your life, surround yourself with family and get support from the Heart Foundation.

"I've got a beautiful family that supports me and I deal with what I have to deal with."

Free Heart Foundation pulse checks are being held throughout New Zealand.

How to check your pulse:

  • Place three fingers over the inside of your wrist, resting the fingers at the base of your thumb. Take time to feel the pulse under your fingers.
  • Count each beat for a total time of 30 seconds.
  • Double the number of beats you counted and that is your heart rate per minute.

Most people's heart beats regularly and is between 60 and 100 beats per minute when resting. An irregular pulse is when the heart doesn’t beat in a regular fashion.

See your doctor if you notice that:

  • Your pulse seems irregular or is 'jumping around'.

find your pulse on your wrist, count your heartbeat for 30 seconds, double it

Learn about your pulse