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Know your pulse – it could save your life

Radio star, Sela Alo, is getting behind the Heart Foundation’s Know your pulse message, after his heart rhythm condition, atrial fibrillation, caused a mini stroke while he was on air.

This April, Life FM’s Breakfast radio host Sela Alo is encouraging all New Zealanders to check their pulse. The father of three knows all too well that an irregular pulse can be a sign there’s something wrong with your heart.

In 2008 he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF), a heart rhythm condition that causes the heart to beat irregularly and increases your risk of stroke. Further investigation by cardiologists also revealed a problem with his heart valve that needed open heart surgery.

Unfortunately, two years after the initial diagnosis, Sela’s AF led to a mini stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA), which occurred while he was in the middle of a radio show.

“I didn’t know what it was at the time. All I knew was that something went wrong, and I was not coherent,” Sela says.

“I could hear what my co-host was saying to me, but I just couldn’t respond and my body sort of shut down. I remember picking up the phone to talk to a listener who had called through and I couldn’t put the phone back on the hook. But within about three minutes I snapped out of it. I went to hospital, and they ran through the tests and they diagnosed a mini-stroke because of my AF.”

Family gets Sela through the tough times

Sela admits that, at first, the AF diagnosis was a challenge, not least because he’d always taken good care of his health.

“It’s had a major impact on my life. I’m not a heavy drinker, I don’t smoke and I’m pretty active and fit, so I was asking, why me? Coping with that was really tough. I had my moments, I’ve had my highs and my lows.”

For Sela, the support of his family and his medical team has been really important to help him deal with the tough times.

“The support of my wonderful wife and knowing that I want to be there for my kids, made it quite easy to say, ‘Every day I’m going to do my best and try and keep as healthy and fit as I can.’  And there was the help of my cardiologist and my medical team supporting me as well. I wouldn’t have been able to get through without them and my family.”

Living with AF

“I know with atrial fibrillation, I’ve got a heart rhythm disorder and it’s not going to fix itself, so it’s just something I have to deal with,” Sela says.

That means staying physically active, but not pushing himself too hard, and making sure he lives his healthiest life.

“I can’t do as much as I used to because with AF, my heart wants to beat like 1,000 beats per minute so I can only do a certain amount of things before I’m just exhausted. But I’m still trying to be physically active. I have that as a goal to be in the best shape I can, so I can run around with my kids and be a good dad.

Choose your attitude

Sela’s advice to others with AF is to focus on what’s important in your life by looking after both your mental and physical wellbeing.

“It’s up to you to do the best you can to deal with a diagnosis,” he says. “You are going to have setbacks, but with a positive mindset and the support of family and friends, you will ensure that any setback won’t stop you or change your state of mind, and that you will keep doing your best, despite any setback. If you’re a parent, you want to ensure you’re doing everything possible to enjoy your children and that may mean more of a healthier balance to your lifestyle.

And please remember that you’re not alone. There is an estimated 60,000 people living with AF throughout Aotearoa. AF is a common life-long condition but your experience of having it is unique to you. There are people who can help if and when you need it. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with reaching out. I have.”

And he encourages all New Zealanders to check their pulse on a regular basis.

“Knowing your pulse will tell you a lot about your heart and it could save your life.”


Learn how to check your pulse