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Heart Foundation TV ad is a life saver

The Heart Foundation’s heart attack awareness TV campaign has been running since 2015 and is proving to save lives. When experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, New Zealanders have been seeking help sooner as a result of seeing the ad on TV.

Shennett and her bike

Shennett saw the advert while having a heart attack

The message is clear – a heart attack may not be as dramatic as you think. The goal is to educate New Zealanders to recognise the signs and symptoms of a heart attack so they call 111 immediately.

The message came just in time for Gavin Ross (60), who dismissed pain across his chest as “just a pulled muscle” until he saw the ad on TV and realised it might have been a heart attack.

“It was a bit of a twinge that went away, and I never worried about it until the next morning when I saw the guy on the TV ad. He is the one in the background and I thought, ‘Crikey, that could be me,’” explains Gavin.

After the message had been playing on his mind, Gavin drove to his GP clinic where they did some tests, including an ECG, and his GP told him he’d had a heart attack.

Gavin says he now realises he had warning signs prior to the heart attack but just didn’t know what they were.

Heart Foundation Medical Director, Gerry Devlin, says part of the reason for hesitating to call 111 is that people often overthink the need to call an ambulance.

“When a heart attack happens, life-threatening rhythm problems are common. So early access to a defibrillator, carried by ambulances, is really important to save lives. This is why we recommend people call 111 immediately and do not try and drive themselves or others to hospital,” says Gerry.  

“Also, the earlier a blocked artery is opened up, the less long-term damage there is to the heart muscle. Speed is critical.”

Heart attack survivor, Shennett Clotworthy, says if it wasn’t for the Heart Foundation ad she wouldn’t have called 111 so soon.

Shennett (79) was at home on her Okaihau family farm when she started to have a major heart attack.

“I was feeling unwell and I lay down on my bed and that’s when I heard the ad in the background. I was feeling nauseous, I was sweating and I had a pain in my chest that was getting worse and worse,” recalls Shennett.

“I thought to myself ‘oh I’ve just heard this, perhaps I should do something about it.’”

Shennett called 111 and when the paramedics arrived to her remote farm, they told her she was having a major heart attack, commonly known as ‘the widow/widower maker’.

Shennett was flown to Auckland Hospital and taken straight into surgery by Cardiologist Dr Mark Webster.

“It’s amazing,” she says. “I had seen the ad before, but on that particular day I had just listened to it!”

If Shennett had delayed calling 111 the result could have been serious damage to her heart or even been fatal.

“I would have called eventually, because the pain was getting worse, but not as soon as I did. I realise how fortunate I am,” says Shennett.

Others, like father-of-two Ian Lancaster and Honorary Fisheries Officer, Eric Hansen, also attribute their calls for help to the TV ad.

Ian started feeling the symptoms of a heart attack but considered brushing them off, until he remembered the Heart Foundation’s ad he’d seen on TV.

"This message was flashing in my mind as I ticked off the symptoms. I realised it was time to do something.”

After his colleagues called an ambulance, he was rushed to Hospital and assessed by Cardiologist Dr Andrew Aitken, who agrees that Ian’s heart attack awareness saved his life.

“Ian sought advice really quickly and got to the emergency department within an hour of the onset of the pain, which makes a world of difference. The length of time it took was significantly reduced because of what he saw on TV the night before.”

Eric Hansen was just starting out his day alongside two colleagues at the Mangawhai boat ramp when he started feeling unwell.

“It was a stinking hot day and I started to feel a bit unwell, but my first thought was dehydration,” he recalls.

“I was sweating and my stomach was all upset. But there was numbness down my left arm, so I took off my vest and radioed down to my colleague and said ‘hey we gotta go.’”

Eric wasn’t certain he was having a heart attack, but he recognised the symptoms from the TV ad and decided if in doubt, call an ambulance.

“I don’t believe in being the hero.”

Eric’s colleagues drove him to the nearby ambulance bay in Mangawhai and the ambulance staff came out and immediately gave him an ECG.

“That’s when the ambulance officer said ‘you’re having a heart attack.’”

Eric was flown to Auckland Hospital where he had two stents inserted.  

“By the time my wife got down there to Auckland Hospital, I was sitting up in bed ‘happy as Larry’.”

By taking immediate action rather than having the Kiwi ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, Eric amazingly has very little damage to his heart.

“There’s a small amount of damage to the heart muscle, but other than that, little or no damage at all.”

“But that comes back to acting quickly and doing something about it straight away,” he adds.

The Heart Foundation heart attack awareness campaign is made possible by public donations and continues to air on New Zealand television.

Watch the advert