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Big-hearted volunteer gives back to help fund heart research

When Clodagh O’Connor had a heart attack in 2009, she had just moved from Hamilton to Invercargill. She assumed the symptoms she was experiencing were due to tiredness or indigestion.

Photo of Clodagh, an 80-year-old volunteer for the Heart Foundation's annual street collection Big Heart Appeal. She is wearing sunglasses, a pink shirt and a blue jumper. She is smiling into the camera.

“I was sitting down, and it felt like someone had banged on my chest,” she recalls. “I took some antacids as I didn’t quite believe something could be wrong with me, but looking back, I should have called the ambulance straight away.”

Medical diagnosis confirms the worst

Clodagh’s husband eventually convinced her to seek medical help. He drove her to the hospital, where they confirmed her fears.

“I was furious with my body because I was still active even though I was in my 70s,” she says. “It was just lucky that we made it to the hospital without anything happening on the way to make the situation worse.”

The next day Clodagh was transferred to Dunedin via ambulance and had surgery to insert a stent into a blocked artery.

“From there, the recovery wasn’t so bad,” she says. “They would get me up and out of bed to keep my blood circulating, and I was discharged within a couple of days.”

Paying it forward

Within a few months of her heart event, Clodagh was keen to volunteer for the Heart Foundation during their annual Big Heart Appeal street collection.

“Both my parents died of heart problems in their 60s,” she says. “In those days, they didn’t have the treatments to keep them alive and well, but now they would have had a much better chance of survival thanks to the life-saving heart research funded by the Heart Foundation.”

The next Big Heart Appeal will take place on Friday 24 and Saturday 25 February 2023. Clodagh will be a volunteer area coordinator for Southland, a role she relishes.

“I really love that the donations go towards heart research,” she says. “But not only that, I’ve volunteered for the last twelve years because of the social interaction with the friendly people you see around Invercargill. They catch your eye, and you smile at them, and I’m always so happy to tell them that the funds raised go into vital heart research.”

Staying active has enabled connection with people in similar circumstances

Clodagh, now in her mid-80s, still goes to the gym three times a week and participates in a walking group every Thursday in Invercargill.

“I joined a cardiac class with the YMCA in conjunction with Southland Cardiac Club, and some of the participants run a cardiac exercise class at the gym,” she says. “It’s a great place to be for people who have a heart issue. We get to chat with other people who have had similar experiences, and there are many people around you who can help if you have any problems.”

Her best advice to those going through something similar would be to interact with others and embrace your life.

“For me, I was in shock. And I know others would be too. You think, ‘how could this happen to me?’ But having these amazing groups of people to share everything with and getting out and about talking to the lovely people of New Zealand, who are so generous, really warms your heart.”

Sign up to volunteer

Heart disease is New Zealand’s single biggest killer, claiming the lives of more than one person every 90 minutes. Heart disease can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. But by coming together and volunteering in the community, we can raise vital funds for life-saving heart research.

Please visit if you’d like to volunteer as a street collector for the Big Heart Appeal on Friday 24 and Saturday 25 February.