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Stand Strong campaign makes a splash in 2024

Our Stand Strong campaign, which encourages whānau to take control of their heart health, made a splash at the Waka Ama National Sprint Championships at Lake Karāpiro in January. 

One of the many groups of paddlers who stopped by our Heart Foundation stand for a kōrero on heart health.

The sports event, which attracts around 3,000 paddlers and 10,000 spectators, is one of several community events the team of Heart Health Advocates will attend over the summer, offering free heart health conversations. 

The campaign, supported by Te Whatu Ora, encourages New Zealanders to learn about their personal risk of heart disease and commit to making small lifestyle changes to reduce that risk. 

“Small changes can make a big difference to heart attack risk whether that is lifestyle changes or with medication from your doctor,” says Heart Foundation Medical Director, Dr Gerry Devlin. 

“Having a kōrero with your whānau about your family’s history of heart disease is also really valuable. One of the most important things you can do is understand your family history,” he says. 

Gerry explains that Māori, Pasifika and South Asian people are impacted by heart disease at an earlier age, on average, around 10 years younger than their European counterparts. “So it’s really important to get a heart check early.” 

The team of Heart Health Advocates, alongside the Toi Tangata team, sat down with around 500 paddlers and spectators at the waka ama event, for heart health conversations over the week, helping to highlight risk factors. 

“We averaged between 55–65 conversations each day,” said Alina Jose, Heart Health Advocate – Waikato. “Teaching people how to take their own pulse was a popular learning opportunity, with attendees leaving with their ‘fingers on the pulse’”.  

The biggest waka ama event of its type in the world attracted more than 3,000 paddlers aged 6 to 80-plus from clubs in Kaitāia to Invercargill for a week of racing. Thousands of spectators and supporters came along to soak up the fun and festive atmosphere on and off the water. 

“Although waka ama is a sports event, many whānau attending were also grateful for the chance to have one-on-one conversations about their heart health,” says Gisborne-based Heart Health Advocate Kerrin Nalder.   

“Often people had family members who’d had a heart event so they wanted to know how they could reduce their risk,” shares Kerrin.   

One of the familiar faces of the Stand Strong campaign attended the event and lent her support at the Heart Foundation stand. Mereana Hona (Ngāti Awa Ki Te Awa o Te Atua | Ngāti Awa | Te Whānau ā Apanui | Tūhourangi | Te Ati Haunui a Papārangi) was supporting over 50 nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts and cousins competing. Waka ama is one of her passions and has played a big part in her life for many years. 

In 2020 Mereana was diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease and had three open heart surgeries. She’s shared her story to help others become aware of heart disease and know their own risks. 

You can read Mereana’s story in the media here and here

To read more about the Stand Strong campaign go to