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A second chance at life

When Sunny landed his dream job, he had no idea how stressful it would become. Following a heart attack, bypass surgery and panic attacks, he’s now taken control of his life and his mental health.

In 2009, career-orientated father-of-two, Sunny, was driving to work when he started getting pins and needles throughout his body. His heart was racing and he could feel pressure in the artery in his neck.  

“The symptoms were getting worse and worse, I felt like my body was shutting down and I had no control over it.” 

When he arrived at work, colleagues recognised his symptoms and immediately called an ambulance. It wasn’t long before doctors diagnosed a heart attack and five days later Sunny had coronary artery bypass surgery

The heart attack and surgery had a big emotional effect on Sunny. 

“I felt like my world had come to an end. I thought I wouldn’t be able to do the things I’d done before.” 

Afterwards, Sunny underwent further blood tests and an ultrasound, which revealed a large fluid build-up around his heart and lungs. 

“I was immediately taken into surgery to drain the water.”     

Sunny was then told he had Dressler Syndrome, an inflammation of the sac around the heart that sometimes occurs following a heart attack or surgery. He stayed a few days in hospital before being discharged for a second time. 

Unfortunately, during this time, Sunny was made redundant. Then his insurance company declined his income protection claim. It was at this point that he began to suffer from anxiety and depression. 

“It was a very, very difficult time. I thought I was going to be in financial ruin and I was having these non-stop panic attacks. 

“I never thought I’d see a psychiatrist because I thought I knew everything in life but counselling was the best thing that ever happened to me. They showed me a different side of life, about understanding depression and panic attacks. I learnt deep breathing exercises, about nature and meditation.” 

Even so, without a job, life was tough.  

“I was very fortunate that my wife was working,” Sunny adds. He also felt the pressure to find another job immediately. However, his daughter gave him some sound advice. 

“She said, ‘Dad, what do you really want in life? Do you want a second chance or do you want to pursue money?’ I said, ‘I want a second chance in life’.” 

In the end, Sunny decided to set up his own business, giving himself more control over his own life and his stress levels. 

“The cardiac rehabilitation really helped me too, and I received a discounted fee at the local gym. With the instructors’ help, I started exercising without jeopardising my health. 

“As time went on, I could feel this new energy level.” 

Sunny progressed from the gym and long-distance walks to jogging in the local park. Before long he was doing 10 laps of the football field and from there he started running on the road. 

“I’d never run in my life before – I’d never even exercised – but I was feeling great.” 

One year after having his heart attack, Sunny entered the 8km Auckland Round the Bays race. Since then Sunny has completed 10 Round the Bays events and he’s also a proud member of the Heart Foundation’s Heart Racer Team for the ASB Auckland Marathon.  

The lessons he’s learnt on this journey have been vital in his recovery. 

“Go and see your doctor if you’re in a toxic or stressful work environment. Start to think about your life and your heart, because it’s so precious and more important than any job.”