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Just plain tough

This Kiwi mum remains positive despite her unpredictable heart condition, atrial fibrillation but she says some days are "just plain tough".

Nikki Tod and her family

Nikki Tod and her husband Mark, son Sam, and daughter Alex. 


Adele booms in the background while Nikki Tod bakes gourmet treats for her neighbours who missed out on a recent Annabel Langbein book launch she attended – apple cake, and macadamia and white chocolate brownie. 

However, it isn’t always brownie and ballads in the Tod household.

Since Nikki, 48, first shared her story in 2015, her life continues to be punctuated by the challenges of her atrial fibrillation (AF) which can bring on sudden ‘attacks’ that send her heart racing.

“It just happens really suddenly for no reason. I start to feel heavy, like I am walking through mud. I know it’s starting when I feel a bit spaced out and put the milk in the oven instead of the fridge or something.

“Then, I just can’t move. I have to sit down and my blood pressure goes right down but my heart beats really fast.”

Her recent symptoms have been unusual, so her cardiologist has taken her off all AF medication while they investigate further.

No sitting around

But this former rally co-driver does not sit around waiting for something to happen, she remains as positive and active as she can.

Nikki, her family and a group of friends completed the 8.5km Round the Bays walk earlier this year. Crossing the finish line was a “huge relief” particularly after she struggled to complete a much shorter event in 2016.

“My 6-year-old son ran across the finish line ahead of us, then he turned and looked back at me and ran back and grabbed my hand. We ran over the finish line together, he was holding my hand because he knew how important it was for mummy to be able to do it,” explains Nikki through her tears.

“It was the most incredible sense of achievement, I just burst into tears. There were a couple of friends at the end and we all just gave each other a big hug,” she says.

She also completed the Jennian Homes Mother’s Day 5km walk on May 14 with her family, in support of the Heart Foundation For Women campaign.

Heart 'blips'

However, the week before the Round the Bays' event Nikki’s husband became worried about a couple of heart “blips” she experienced and wanted to pull out altogether. Nikki was adamant she would continue. 

“I wasn’t worried, there are plenty of St Johns paramedics around on bikes and golf carts, they are everywhere.”

She does take precautions and has a management plan in place. When her husband Mark is away, she has someone with her and son Sam, 6, and daughter Alexandra, 4, in case she becomes unwell.

Nikki manages to train despite the ever-present threat of an AF attack but she knows when she needs to stop and rest.

“I stick to main areas where there will be a lot people so if I do drop unconscious people will see me. I have my medic alert bracelet and card on my mobile that tells people I have a heart condition.

“The last time I had an attack away from home, I managed to dial 111 myself and talk to the operator, then handed the phone to a girlfriend and told her she needed to talk to St Johns.”

Going to a dark place

Nikki says she went to “a very dark place” in 2015 when a cardiac ablation procedure to treat her AF didn’t work.

One of the cardiologists who performed the procedure described her heart as a “nest of trouble” and said it was “firing all over the place”.

She was awake so she could tell the team how she was feeling. They attempted to induce an AF attack with shots of adrenaline to her heart to help identify the correct area to work on. 

After four unsuccessful attempts, the last words she heard were, “she is going into cardiac arrest, get the crash team down here”.

The anaesthetist then put her to sleep and she underwent an electical cardioversion procedure to restore her normal heart rhythm, by sending electric shocks to the heart.

“It was very frustrating but it hasn’t stopped me.”

Hard to ask for help

As a naturally independent person, one of the hardest things has been learning to ask for help, but she says she is getting better at it and appreciates the amazing support she gets from her community.

If her apple cake, white chocolate brownie and caring attitude are anything to go by, her community must certainly appreciate her. 

While she remains upbeat, Nikki is also realistic and says some days living with an unpredictable heart condition is just plain tough.

“I have my moments, I have my cries. I just put on a song and sob my heart out.” 

Nikki recently shared her story and her Jennian Homes Mother's Day walk journey with Seven Sharp reporter Gill Higgins.