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Heart attack risk cut by small changes

Despite suffering a near-fatal heart attack just six months ago, Karen Grainger is feeling the best she has in years.

Karen's inspiring health turn-around is the result of a series of small but significant lifestyle changes.

“I wanted to share my story, not to boast but because it might be useful for other people to hear,” Karen explains. 

“My doctor’s really pleased with me because my blood pressure and cholesterol are now really good and that’s all happened within months. Just small changes have made a huge difference.”

Karen, aged 59 from Auckland, first started experiencing chest pains in March this year.

She was diagnosed with angina and referred for further tests at the Manukau SuperClinic.

It was during that appointment six weeks later that Karen had a massive heart attack while running on a treadmill. She had to be revived through CPR and a defibrillator.

“It was very traumatic. My husband was very distressed. I’ve got an elderly mother and she was extremely upset too.”

Karen had two stents inserted to open up her blocked arteries, and she spent five days recovering in hospital.

But then the real work began.

“I started making changes as soon as I got home,” Karen says.  

First in the firing line was her diet, which for years had included lots of rich, creamy sauces and gravy.

“Now my husband and I don’t have gravy or sauce on anything. And we have fish three times a week, we’ve cut down on pork, we eats lots of vegetables and I’ve cut out salt as well, which I was heavy on.”

Karen knew she also needed to step up her fitness.

She now arrives at work early every day and goes for a walk around the neighbouring areas, before squeezing in another short walk at lunchtime.

“I really look forward to my walk every morning. I can get between 20 and 40 minutes a day from Monday to Friday, as well as my weekend walk,” she says.

“It’s all just in little bites. That’s what I tell other people – even if you can just walk for 10 minutes twice a day, that’s 20 minutes of exercise straight away.”

Karen says improving her diet and fitness has made a huge difference to her heart health in a short space of time.

“I feel more energetic, all because of small changes that are not actually that difficult once you get started.”

She now “gently” tries to encourage others to improve their diet and exercise levels.

“I have one son who is 27. The cardiologist said in my case the heart disease was more genetic so I’ve had to tell my son that he’s got to take care with what he eats.”

People who have a heart attack are more likely to have another one but the good news is there is plenty we can do to reduce our risk.

You can make changes to your lifestyle, take medications as prescribed, and keep well informed about your condition.

Some people, like Karen, even find that life after a heart attack can improve and be more fulfilling than before.