Personal trainer suffers heart attack

Jonathan Winther (aka Jono) is a man who loves to help others. But late last year, it was this West Auckland personal trainer who needed urgent help.

Would you know if you were having a heart attack? Read Jono's story.

Jono Winther with Professor Elaine Rush at the December 2014 Certificate in Pacific Nutrition Graduation

Looking back, Jono, 46, knew something wasn’t right that day. He’d been leading a boot camp with his wife Sivao but started feeling short of breath towards the end of training.

He thought he just needed to walk it off. But in reality, Jono was having a heart attack.

More signs followed. His chest started hurting, his left arm went numb, and he struggled to breathe. He knew then that something was clearly wrong. Not wanting his wife to panic, he calmly asked her to drive him to the accident and emergency department at Waitakere Hospital.

There he spent three days recovering from his heart attack. Doctors on call said, had it not been for his strong level of fitness, he may not have survived. But luckily, results from various tests showed no visual damage to his heart.

Of Maori heritage (Te Atiawa and Ngati Tewhiti) Jono and wife Sivao (who is of Samoan heritage) live busy lives. They are active members of their local church and have two sons, Luke (12) and Jordan (10). Their younger son has Angelman Syndrome, a rare neuromuscular condition limiting the full use his muscles and speech, requiring him to have daily special care. The couple also run weekly community boot-camps operating on gold coin donations.

But last year, life became extra stressful for Jono due to a combination of work, family commitments and serious health concerns that he says led him almost to breaking point.

“I was stressed to the max, big time. Eating plans I usually stuck to went out the window. Last year was a big alert, a big ‘bell’ saying that I wasn’t ok at that moment in time; I wasn’t emotionally ok and I wasn’t physically ok. At the same time I was run down, I was getting burnt out. I didn’t go and have checks with my GP. Maybe all of that that contributed to me experiencing a heart attack.”

As a previous graduate of the Heart Foundation’s Certificate in Pacific Nutrition (CPN) course, Jono knew about the information and signs of heart attacks, but “ironically I didn’t actually recognise it with myself when I experienced it”.

He says it’s important for Maori and Pasifika to recognise their increase risk of heart disease.

“For us being Polynesian and Maori, we think we’re fit, we think we’re healthy. But we still need to have regular GP checks for our health. It’s not something we’re used to doing, and it’s something that probably at times – and I’m speaking for myself, really – we’re too proud to do. I think as a male, often throughout life you think you’re invincible, you think you’re immune. Even for me personally, I think we need to get regular health checks; we need to make sure we’re ok.”

On medical advice he’s now eased up slightly on physical activity, choosing to exercise for the love of it and to maintain good health, rather than pushing beyond his limits just to test himself.

“Everything in moderation,” he says. “Before my heart attack, I didn’t go and say ‘I haven’t been feeling well, I’ve been really tired, I’ve been a bit burnt out, a bit run down, is there anything I can do to help?’ I didn’t do that.”

Jono’s advice is to not to hold onto the stresses and issues of daily life and to talk to someone you can trust, whether it’s your partner, a close friend or a colleague.

“At the end of the day just enjoy life with your family, enjoy life with exercise, enjoy life with eating well.”

All of us here at the Heart Foundation would like to thank Jono for sharing his powerful story. 

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