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Businesswoman takes a stand against heart disease

When Tracey Rudduck-Gudsell was advised to write goodbye letters to her two children, heart disease suddenly became a very real threat. 

“I was gob smacked. As a mother, I suddenly felt extremely vulnerable and became aware of the seriousness of it,” she recalls.  

Tracey, a well-known business leader in Tauranga, had spent her entire life with a ‘racing heart’ until it was finally diagnosed as a heart condition, called supraventricular tachycardia, when she was 48. 

“I always thought that was just normal. It was a complete surprise when it was picked up as a heart condition in 2010.”

Three years later, she had to be booked in for investigative surgery after experiencing regular chest discomfort on exertion, changes in temperature and when under high stress.

Due to the risks involved in going under anaesthetic and the actual procedure, Tracey was advised to tidy up her personal affairs and write any letters she might want to leave for loved ones. 

“This is obviously standard procedure to warn patients about the risks they are under, but my children Oliver and Kayla were only 11 and 10 at the time so it suddenly all became very real and very frightening.”

Tracey came through the angioplasty without complications but the process revealed she also had a leaky valve and mild heart disease, which she manages with aspirin, statin medication and a healthy lifestyle.

The experience also left her with a burning passion to warn Kiwi women about the risks of heart disease.

“I think many people still see heart disease as a man’s disease but it’s a bigger killer than breast cancer. I also think many mothers put their families ahead of their own health. 

“We need to raise awareness and put heart disease on the radar.” 

Heart disease is New Zealand’s single biggest killer, claiming nearly 3000 Kiwi women every year – 4.6 times more than the number taken by breast cancer. 

As the Heart Foundation’s new Bay of Plenty Ambassador, Tracey wants to use her position as a business leader in the region – formerly CEO of Creative Tauranga and now Business Development Manager at Heartland Bank – to reach as many women as possible.  

“I was in a local fashion store a couple of weeks ago and was suddenly surrounded by six different women and they were all talking about how they’d wondered if they should get their hearts checked after reading of my story in the local paper,” the 54-year-old says.  

“It was amazing to have that response and I think it’s because I’m a familiar face. They feel as though they can have a chat with me.”

Kat Macmillan, the Heart Foundation’s Midland Regional Manager, says Tracey is well known in the Bay of Plenty community and will make a real difference in her new role.

“I think it really resonates with people when someone that's high-profile in their community can speak first-hand about heart disease and about the great work that the Heart Foundation does.

"We are hoping to hold some fantastic Go Red for Women events in the near future and having an ambassador like Tracey will encourage people to come along to these events, have a lot of fun and learn more about heart disease and the Heart Foundation."