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Roni Lolesi - Man on a mission

If you recognise Roni Lolesi in the photo below, it’s because his smiling face has been appearing on posters up and down the country this week.

Roni, a 59-year-old man from Manurewa in Auckland, has a powerful story to tell about an out-of-the-blue heart attack which changed his life and the lives of those around him. 

He’s agreed to be the face of our Heart Week annual appeal, alongside Kiwi league legend Graham Lowe and Auckland businesswoman Helen Thompson-Carter.

Roni was working out during a morning boxing session back in October 2013 when he suddenly experienced his heart attack.

“I had this feeling like a balloon blowing out in my chest, then excruciating pain that was like a knife jabbing me in the chest. This brought on cold sweats all over my body, I felt clammy and I knew I was in deep trouble,” he recalls.

Roni sought urgent medical attention and, following treatment, had to undergo an intense rehabilitation programme.

“The scary thing for me was watching the video of patients who had similar events and how they coped with life after leaving hospital. I looked them up online and many had passed away which was not a comforting thought for someone trying to survive a heart event.”

Roni had always led an active lifestyle but had a history of high blood pressure and was not taking care of his diet at the time of his heart event.

“I feel I was eating the wrong food and drink that put pressure on my heart and overall health. I had no problems drinking fizzy drinks and using salt on my meals and I had a sweet tooth. I ate pretty much whatever I wanted.”

After his heart attack, he knew he’d need to make some drastic lifestyle changes if he was going to stick around to spend more precious time with his wife, children and grandchildren.

“It was scary for us as a family because they realized I could have died from a heart event that has claimed other family members in the past. Embracing better eating and drinking habits, following a regular exercise plan, and taking my medication has really helped me stay alive and well.”

He, his wife and daughter have all put themselves through the Certificate of Proficiency in Pacific Nutrition (CPPN) course run by the Heart Foundation’s Pacific Heartbeat Team.

“I did the course because I believed it was in my best interest to get the knowledge for myself, my family and my friends. I want to teach this to as many people who will listen to my story so they can make better informed choices for themselves.” 

Roni is now quick to offer advice to others – particularly Pacific people – about taking care of their heart health. He says he’s become an evangelist for the “Gospel of healthy eating”.

“I am very passionate about getting people to improve their heart health because I have just survived my own heart event and it was not a very nice experience. Over time it will kill you if you ignore the importance of eating the right foods and drinking wisely.”

Roni's final words of wisdom are to enjoy life to the fullest by taking care of your heart. 

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