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Deb Leslie - ‘Heart disease sucks’

Two years ago, Deb Leslie suffered a horrific heart attack which left her strewn across the table in a busy Wellington food court.

As Deb lay there, she could hear everything happening around her but couldn’t move, open her eyes or speak.

Her two young children could only watch on helplessly.

Deb was only 41 years old at the time of the attack on January 22, 2013. She was young, fit and had no family history of heart issues.

“Having a heart attack was the furthest thing from my mind that morning. I had decided to treat the kids to lunch at the mall and it was there that I first noticed tightness across my chest.”

Deb said the pressure soon turned into pain and she was unable to walk or even pick up her phone to call for help.

“I was having trouble breathing and then, in front of my kids, I collapsed on the table in the middle of the food court. There was no reason for me to collapse, yet I did.”

The rest is a blur, she recalls. 

“I came around in the ambulance about 60 minutes after collapsing. I could open my eyes and all I wanted to know was, ‘Where were my kids? Were they OK? And what did they see?’”

As Deb was rolled into hospital, she saw her terrified husband waiting and burst into tears again, hugging him tightly.

Deb now knows that what she experienced that day was called a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD), a highly uncommon occurrence caused by tearing in the coronary artery wall.  

There is currently no official known reason or cure for SCAD but patients are most often middle-aged women with few or no risk factors for heart disease. 

“Technically, I had less than a 1% chance of having a heart attack…so why me?” Deb still asks.

Her story is not an isolated one. About half of those who suffer a heart attack are considered to have only low or moderate risk.

“A month after my attack, another mum I knew had one, and has had two more since. Then another mother – just 45 with two kiddies – had one.”

Deb says the event has placed a huge burden on her family. Since spending six days in hospital, she still hasn’t been able to return to work, has major anxiety issues and has spent hours in therapy with a psychologist.

“Heart Disease sucks. It has totally changed my life and those of others around me. The kids are worried all the time that I'm going to die.”

Deb is now passionate about the Heart Foundation’s work and about helping other women avoid what she’s been through.

“I want to thank the Heart Foundation for all the programmes and support it offers. If you have the ability to donate today, please do.

“You are not just helping to save lives like mine. You are helping to save families.”