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Heart murmur becomes heart attack for keen volunteer

Rose Williamson was born with a heart murmur and has held the Heart Foundation close to her heart all her life.

Rosalie is standing outside in her garden. She is wearing a red and white striped top, glasses and has chin length sandy coloured hair. She is an older woman of retirement age.

No stranger to heart issues

“I have had heart issues throughout my life,” says Rose. “And I chose to volunteer for the Heart Foundation because the charities that affect you are the dearest to your heart. I always knew that the Heart Foundation would be there for me if something happened.”

Rose had her first ‘mild’ heart attack when she was 32.

“I’m not one for dramas,” she says, “but I had pains in my chest and arm, and when I went to the doctor, he confirmed it.”

Cardiologist on call

From then on, Rose had to have special cover whenever she had any dental or medical work done. She had a cardiologist on call when pregnant with her last child at 44.

“Then, after having an echocardiogram, they couldn’t find any scars, and I said, ‘Well, that’s fine with me!’ and just got on with life like normal,” she says.

Smart watch identifies increased heart rate

“Then, one day, I was in Australia, reading a book, when my smart watch started to tell me my heart rate had increased. My heart was racing – it was 168, and I was sitting there thinking, ‘I’m just reading a novel. There’s nothing really exciting about this.’

“When I got back to New Zealand, I had pneumonia and breathlessness that wouldn’t go away,” she says. “I was put on medication, but then a few months later, I was in the waiting room at the hospital for six hours and ended up passing out in the bathroom. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to die here.’

Heart attack in hospital waiting room

“I managed to get back to the seat, and my husband said, ‘You’ve turned grey’. I felt as if my heart was in my mouth, so far up, almost choking me. The elephant was sitting on my chest,” she says. “Finally, the doctors managed to see me, and they said, ‘You’ve had a recent heart attack’, and I said, ‘Yes, just there in the waiting room.’”

It turned out that Rose had blood clots in her lungs which had passed through her heart and caused the heart attack. She was placed on blood thinning medication, and she’s feeling great two years later.

Volunteer work for the Heart Foundation

“I started volunteering for the Big Heart Appeal street collection five years ago when I saw the area coordinator position was available in Palmerston North,” she says.

“I’m really passionate about sharing my story and raising awareness about heart disease,” she says. “Getting out and about for the Big Heart Appeal street collection is right up my alley. I love telling those that can spare the time about all the good things that the Heart Foundation funds, like heart research.”

With so many deaths in New Zealand still caused by heart disease, it’s no surprise that many of our volunteers have stories about how they or someone they love has been affected. That’s why it’s so important to rally together and raise vital funds to help make more heart research possible.

How you can volunteer for the Big Heart Appeal

Heart disease is New Zealand’s single biggest killer, claiming the lives of more than one person every 90 minutes. Heart disease can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. But by coming together and volunteering in the community, we can raise vital funds for life-saving heart research.

If you’d like to volunteer as a street collector for the Big Heart Appeal on Friday 24 and Saturday 25 February, please visit