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Motivated to volunteer for the Heart Foundation after unexpected heart problems

Almost ten years ago, Maggie had a heart attack completely out of the blue. As a fairly healthy and fit woman, she never saw it coming.

Maggie stands in the porchway of an early settler building, with flowering shrubbery to the side. She wears white trousers and a red waterproof jacket.

“I thought I was very fit. I had always gone for all my health checks and thought I was being very good about everything – very self-righteous, I guess,” she says.

Her life, however, was very busy. “I was working full-time. I have my own company. I was on committees, doing a lot of gym work, and walking, so I was very busy. I was pushing myself very hard. I’d never been overweight and kept my blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels, though.”

Even so, when she first felt a pain in her sternum, she initially thought she was suffering from indigestion.

“The pain just kept coming in huge rushing waves. It actually flicked through my mind once – is this a heart attack? I thought, no. I’m too fit. I’m too young. I was 60 when it happened.”

Living just a few hundred metres away from a walk-in medical centre, Maggie decided to get herself to a doctor on foot.

“I walked up the road – up a slight rise and some steps too. The first doctor who saw me didn’t think it was a heart attack either. Neither did the ambulance team who drove me to the hospital!”

Heart attack confirmed

When she arrived at the hospital, Maggie was given the usual array of tests. Finally, at about 4pm – eight hours after the pains began – she got her surprising diagnosis.

“They came in and said we think you’ve had a heart attack, and I was kind of like, ‘What?’ Even then, I don’t think it really clicked. I thought, ‘Are you kidding?’”

Following a minor complication with a blood clot, Maggie was discharged from hospital four days later. One of the overriding emotions she remembers from the first couple of weeks after the event was anger. But during her recovery, she discovered how the Heart Foundation could help, inspiring her to get involved.

“The Heart Foundation has always supported me during my journey, so I want to support them in return,” she says. “They do a lot of really good things to help people, especially those who suddenly find themselves in the same position I did. When you have a heart attack, you have a lot of questions and are not always sure who to ask.”

As well as the amazing support from her clinicians and her family, Maggie found the local support group helpful. Particularly for asking many of the questions she had about her condition in the months following the event. “You don’t know what is normal or not,” she explains. “Some people may not want to ask a lot of questions, but I wanted to know everything.”

Volunteering to save lives

Maggie’s personal experience motivated her to become a Big Heart Appeal street collector – and she encourages others to do the same.

“Sign up because you never know what’s going to happen. You, or a loved one, could be the next one having a sudden heart attack,” says Maggie. “And the more funds we can raise as part of the Big Heart Appeal, the more research and training that can happen to help save lives. The research is really important.”

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