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Luke Cairns - Surviving the widow-maker

Luke Cairns’ wife and three young children could easily have spent Christmas 2014 without a husband and father.

At just 34 years of age, Luke came close to becoming one of the more than 6500 New Zealanders who die from heart disease every year. 

Luke says he was a fairly typical young dad up until September last year. He had been fit and active in his work and with his family. With three young boys, now aged 6, 4 and 4-months, Luke had spent less time playing sport and surfing but had remained active. He says his wife insisted on healthy eating. 

“I considered myself pretty healthy. Then in September, I thought I’d pulled a muscle in my chest. I didn’t for one minute think about my heart. I thought it would just go away but one day at work it got so bad I had to sit down.”

Fortunately for Luke, a workmate got him to hospital. While undergoing tests Luke went into cardiac arrest; he had a heart attack that stopped his heart for five minutes and he had to be revived.

The doctors said Luke’s chances of survival would have been 1% had he not been in hospital.

Surgeons inserted two stents into his arteries, in an area Luke says is commonly known as ‘the widow-maker’.

“It was a huge shock to me and my family. My youngest child was just five weeks old when this happened. I’m so grateful to be alive. I love and enjoy my boys and want to be there with them as they grow up.”

The impact of suffering a serious heart event, especially at such a young age, is huge.

“It’s definitely changed my life. It’s been a real struggle. I couldn’t work initially, of course, and then I lost my employment even though I had been cleared to go back to work. That’s huge when you have a young family. I’m ready and able to get back to a normal working life and I’m looking hard for an opportunity.”

Luke wasn’t what is generally considered a ‘typical’ candidate for a heart attack.  He was young, healthy and fit with no family history of heart disease.

Heart Foundation Heart Health Advocate Sandy Ritchie says heart disease doesn’t discriminate and is more common than many people realise.

“It’s starting to affect people at a younger age. It happens to old and young, fit and unfit, women and men. No-one is immune,” she says.  

She says heart disease claims the life of more than one Kiwi every 90 minutes.

Luke strongly supports the Heart Foundation in urging people to live a healthy lifestyle and to never ignore chest pain.

“If there’s any pain, get it checked early. It could save your life,” he says.

Luke is telling his story to encourage people to look after their hearts and support the work of the Heart Foundation.

Heart Week, the Heart Foundation’s annual fundraising appeal is from February 9-15.

Volunteers will be hitting the streets to collect donations on Friday 13th and Saturday 14th of February.

By contributing to the Heart Foundation’s annual appeal, you can make a real difference for people like Luke - and possibly for a member of your own family.