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Healing hearts through friendship

In 2015, Pete Fleming had emergency surgery for an aortic dissection, then two years later underwent bypass surgery to insert four stents. Now, he's gearing up to participate in the Auckland Marathon as a Heart Foundation Heart Racer, alongside his friends John Bleackley and Dave Sisam – who share a similar story.

Pete, John and Dave

After becoming friends following aortic repair surgery, Pete, John and Dave will be taking part in the ASB Auckland Marathon together this Sunday, 20 October, to raise money towards life-saving research into heart disease.

Pete met Dave at cardiac rehabilitation classes and the pair started catching up on a regular basis. Not long after that they connected with John, another aortic dissection survivor. The three formed a close friendship, and Pete says that friendship has been a huge part of their recovery.

"It was probably the most valuable thing through the whole process. It's fantastic," he says. "We gain strength from each other's support and experiences."

Since becoming friends, the trio regularly meet up over lunch, dinner and at Christmas, together with their wives and children, to provide support to each other through their similar experiences.

With heart disease being New Zealand's single biggest killer, claiming the life of one New Zealander every 90 minutes, the trio are hoping to raise awareness of heart health and help stop people dying prematurely from heart disease.

The annual Auckland Marathon event is New Zealand's biggest cultural running celebration, offering five race distances to its participants. John and Pete will be completing the 5km walk, while Dave will tackle the 11km traverse.

"We are all just happy to be here and if we can help in any way to promote aortic awareness and that fact that life does go on after traumatic experiences, we will," says Pete.

The three friends encourage people living with a heart condition to connect with others through cardiac rehabilitation classes, support groups, or the Heart Foundation.

"Quite often people don’t realise how valuable it is until they meet a group of similar people and start to discuss openly their problems in a comfortable environment," Pete explains. "Then you can see them nodding and thinking 'oh yes I’ve walked in your shoes, I understand and I can empathise'."

"It has helped us all through our journey back to our own emotional stability. Connecting with them has been really good," says John.

"We are trying to connect people who are looking for support to help them through their journey and their return to a new normal. Someone who has been through the same experience is really, really valuable."

To register for the ASB Auckland Marathon event visit the Auckland Marathon website.