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Not the usual symptoms

No two heart attacks are the same, and women can experience different symptoms to men. Dunedin woman June Aerakis knows that all too well.

When June Aerakis woke up feeling hot, with a sore left ear and tight feeling in her throat, it didn’t even occur to her that she might be having heart problems.

“I went outside to cool down and thought to myself ‘something’s not right’ but I didn't know what. I took two Panadol and went to work for the day. I just thought I was stressed, tired and getting old.”

It was December 2013 and June, from Green Island in Dunedin, was working long hours in the final days before her retirement from early childhood teaching.

“I had been stressing out about my numerous farewell parties. I found it hard to be the centre of attention and also to say goodbye to friends, colleagues, children and parents.”

As her sore ear and throat persisted, she went to see her doctor, who found nothing wrong but advised June to go for some blood tests.

“I was in complete denial that there was anything wrong with me because I’d never been sick – I only go to my doctor every six months.”

But the tests showed that June had experienced a heart attack and she was told to pack her bags and head to hospital immediately.

“I was feeling very scared and unsure as I had never had any illnesses or been admitted to hospital before. The next day I was given two stents because of two blockages in my arteries and I was in a state of shock that this had happened to me.”

June, 68, is sharing her story in support of the Heart Foundation’s Go Red for Women campaign, which runs throughout May to raise awareness and funds to fight heart disease in women. 

Gerry Devlin, the Heart Foundation’s Medical Director, says heart disease kills more than 50 Kiwi women every week, with a number of these deaths being premature and preventable.

He says it’s important for people to realise that the warning signs of a heart attack can vary between men and women.

“Like men, the most common heart attack symptom for women is chest pain or discomfort. But women are more likely to experience other symptoms, such as discomfort in the upper back or neck, sweating and unusual fatigue.”

That’s something June Aerakis knows first-hand and she advises women to get checked out if they think anything is wrong with their bodies.

Eighteen months since her heart event, June has made some significant changes to her lifestyle.

“I certainly felt a lot better after the procedure and was lucky to have the wonderful support from the Cardiac Rehabilitation Nurse, Lifestyle Gym and Heart Foundation.

She also goes to aqua aerobics at the Physio Pool up to twice a week, and to the Larks exercise class once a week.

“My advice for Kiwi women to avoid heart disease is healthy eating and exercise that makes you happy. I am 68 years young now and feel I am one of the lucky ones who got a second chance to live.”

She says she was very lucky to have a brilliant GP, wonderful doctors and nurses at Dunedin Hospital, and continuing support from the Heart Foundation. 

The Heart Foundation would like to thank June for sharing her story in support of our Go Red For Women campaign.