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Dedicated volunteer honours late husband during street collection

Exceptional volunteer, Lynne Hawkins, is once again generously contributing her time and energy to the Big Heart Appeal street collection on Friday 23 February and Saturday 24 February 2024 in Hokitika. Her commitment to the cause is rooted in her personal connection to heart disease.

Lynne's late husband, Laurence (Laurie), served in the New Zealand army and experienced a series of heart-related challenges during his lifetime. In the 1980s, Laurie had a heart attack due to angina. Unfortunately, his condition was misdiagnosed as a pinched nerve by the family GP and army doctor at Trentham.

“The pain continued but he never received a proper diagnosis,” says Lynne. “Even when I took him to the hospital in Lower Hutt after another heart attack, the doctor thought he was okay to be discharged.”

An electrocardiogram (ECG) was conducted but the doctor assured Laurie that his heart was as strong as an ox. Laurie was subsequently sent to serve in Fiji, where he continued to experience angina symptoms, still believed to be a pinched nerve.

“The turning point came when Laurie was posted to Defence HQ in Wellington and a different army doctor saw his discomfort when he was holding his shoulder,” she says. “He knew what it was and immediately called an ambulance.”

Laurie was experiencing a heart attack again. Rushed to the coronary care unit in Wellington, he had another heart attack while in the hospital. 

“If he hadn't been under medical care at the time, it would have been fatal,” says Lynne.

In 1985, Laurie underwent a successful triple bypass surgery at Wellington Hospital. 

“We were so grateful to finally have a solution to his heart problems.”

Laurie left the army in 1986 and together with Lynne they purchased a dry stock farm but eventually sold it and relocated to Greymouth. However, heart problems resurfaced around 1992, leading to Laurie's admission to Grey Hospital and his subsequent transfer to Greenlane in Auckland. 

“Laurie was placed on a heart transplant waiting list and we lived in a part of the hospital for three months called Hearty Towers,” says Lynne.

While awaiting news of a suitable donor heart, they were informed that as Laurie's lungs were in too good a condition due to pulmonary hypertension, they would be too strong for a donor heart. He would need both a lung and heart transplant. 

“They said we would have to self-fund the trip to an Australian hospital and the surgery,” she says. “But it was an expense we couldn't afford. And Laurie didn’t want to sell the house.”

As a result, Laurie decided to take his chances without the transplant.

“He decided that his lungs could be donated to someone else and his heart valves too.” 

Although Laurie was given just a 10% chance of surviving one more year, he remarkably defied the odds and lived another four years. Unfortunately, in 1996, he finally succumbed to heart complications. 

“His blood pressure had dropped to the point where it couldn't even be measured,” Lynne explains. “But we were so happy that he managed to get a few more good years of life.”

Surprisingly, there was no history of heart disease on Laurie's side of the family.

“Specialists at Greenlane Hospital couldn't pinpoint the cause of Laurie's heart disease,” she recalls. “But they suspected a potential connection to Agent Orange, a herbicide used during the Vietnam War to defoliate jungle areas and linked to heart problems.”

Lynne's connection with the Heart Foundation began in 1993 when she started buying Heart Foundation Lottery tickets. This connection was established during the period when she and Laurie were at Greenlane Hospital. 

“I’ve been involved with the Heart Foundation Lottery since it started in 1993,” she says. “I’m an auto-buyer so I get included in all the Early-Buy draws.”

About four years ago, Lynne received an email from the Heart Foundation seeking volunteers. She decided to get involved. She was the only volunteer in Hokitika initially, but her dedication shone through, leading to her becoming a volunteer area coordinator for the Big Heart Appeal street collection. This year marks her fourth consecutive year of volunteering.

Lynne's commitment to volunteering for the Heart Foundation is fuelled by the realisation that heart disease is prevalent and often hidden within communities. 

“With what we faced, it’s clear that you just never know who among your friends and family might be affected by heart disease,” she says.

Lynne has compiled a list of willing volunteers, and she hopes to encourage more people to sign up to support the Heart Foundation's efforts. In Hokitika, there is currently only one location for the Big Heart Appeal street collection, but she eagerly awaits more helping hands.

Lynne's advice to potential volunteers is simple: "Just do it – it doesn't take up a lot of time. Even if you can only spare an hour, it's greatly appreciated. Remember that heart disease affects every family at some point. You'll likely know someone who has been impacted by it."

The Heart Foundation is incredibly grateful for the dedication and compassion that volunteers like Lynne Hawkins bring to the cause. Together, they play a crucial role in raising funds for heart research and education, ensuring that more stories like Lynne's late husband's can have a positive outcome.

Heart disease can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime, even someone you love – sign up as a Big Heart Appeal street collection volunteer to help fund life-saving heart research today.

Sign up now