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A life of farming with atrial fibrillation

Owen Smith always knew that farming was the life for him. He’d grown up on a sheep farm and that was where he wanted to stay. So as someone with an active lifestyle, he never imagined there was a problem with his heart.

Owen Smith

Owen had his first atrial fibrillation episode in his twenties, but he wasn’t diagnosed with the condition until middle-age.

"I remember going out one night to do some shooting of hares or rabbits and I felt really faint. I stopped beside the fence post and I didn't know what had happened. But I waited and then I just carried on from there."

By the time he returned home, he’d put the event behind him and didn't even think to tell his wife.

"I just got on with my life as a sheep farmer with shearing and crutching and fencing."

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm, which can result in an increased risk of stroke for some.

It can strike adults at any age and it's estimated nearly one in 35 New Zealanders between the age of 35 and 74 have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, that's more than 60,000 Kiwis. And it's likely there are many more who don’t know they have it, making it the most common type of irregular heart rhythm also known as arrhythmia.

For the next decade Owen experienced increased episodes of atrial fibrillation but didn’t seek medical help or even mention it to his wife or four children. At that stage, Owen didn't know what his condition was or that it was putting him at risk of a stroke. Finally, however, the attacks were coming too often to keep quiet about.

"I finally went to the doctor because I did the silly thing and mentioned it to my wife," he laughs. The GP immediately referred him to the hospital for an ECG.

"When I went to the hospital, the letter that the doctor had given me was probably three to four weeks old. So, I handed that over and that caused almost a panic in the hospital because they thought I was going to drop dead straight away."

Since that time – now more than 40 years ago – Owen has continued to lead a physical and active life. He walks a couple of kilometres every morning after breakfast and does balance exercises every day. But even with medication he continues to get dizzy spells as a result of his condition.

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

Learn how to check your pulse