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Volunteering for the satisfaction of helping people live

On National Volunteer Week, 21–27 June, we're celebrating the work of volunteers like 62-year-old Eric Lynn from Greymouth who, despite a recent heart attack, can't wait to get out volunteering for the Heart Foundation again in the knowledge that his fundraising efforts can help save a life.

Eric Lynn

A 'small' heart attack in the middle of Covid-19 lockdown was quite scary for Eric Lynn. His father had had a series of heart attacks in his 40s and 50s and eventually died of a heart attack. But Eric's not someone who looks on the negative side. Instead he's full of positivity and grateful for the treatment and support he's had.

"You can't think negatively all the time. You've got to keep going and make the most of what's happening. I got fantastic treatment. I can't give the hospital enough praise," he says.

Eric was advised not to do anything strenuous for 10 days and his wife Lyn was watching him "like a hawk". After three weeks of taking it easy Eric felt "as good as gold  –  I'm not one to sit down". Before a month was up, and with the country moving out of Alert Level 3, Eric was already thinking about how he could be of service in his community.

"I just love volunteering," says Eric. "It's so worthwhile. I very much enjoy meeting people – seeing their smiles, hearing their stories. Sometimes, it's a real eye opener. My own story pales into comparison with some of the stories I've heard."

In National Volunteer Week the Heart Foundation is highlighting the contribution of thousands of volunteers around the country who help save lives. The theme of this week is Te Hua o te Mahi Tahi – The benefit of working together.

"The Heart Foundation has helped bring about a phenomenal reduction in heart disease in the last 50 years," Heart Foundation Medical Director Dr Gerry Devlin says, "but we haven't done it alone. Our volunteers around the country make a huge difference in our ability to help."

Thousands of volunteers from Kaitaia to Bluff make the Heart Foundation’s work possible – raising funds for life-saving research and specialist training in cardiology, promoting awareness in their communities about how to prevent heart disease and helping run community support groups for people who’ve experienced heart disease.

"It's quite amazing. Everybody's story is different,' Eric reflects. "The satisfaction of knowing that the money I help raise is going towards helping people live, towards a good cause" motivates him.

Earlier this year Eric was the Area Coordinator for the Big Heart Appeal street collection in Greymouth. He recruited a team of volunteers to collect donations at key sites around the town, including successfully introducing a new site, the railway station where the Alpine Express comes in. As well as setting up and supporting other volunteers, Eric and his wife Lyn did a couple of shifts themselves.

He made a point of meeting all the volunteers and going to introduce himself to the managers and stores they were collecting outside of. "They were quite happy with that. They'd never had anybody doing that before. It's important to go that bit extra."

Eric's a people person and his skills in connecting with people and making sure volunteers were happy came to the fore. "I think it's important to listen to people and show you're interested, especially when they're talking about their lives."

Heart disease is New Zealand's single biggest killer; 170,000 people are living with heart disease, and these statistics are very real for Eric. As well as his recent heart attack and his father's series of heart attacks in middle age, his wife's brother died of a heart attack at 36. In Eric's rugby playing days in Hamilton he saw a 19-year-old young man in the opposite team have a heart attack and die on the field.

"It just got me thinking. You can go anytime." he says.

Eric's also had cancer but is resolutely optimistic about that. "I'm one of the many, but I had a positive result." As well as volunteering for the last 10 years for the Heart Foundation, he also volunteers for two cancer charities and a children's charity.

"People get a lot of enjoyment out of volunteering. They can think, 'I've done that to help these people.' They get a sense of pride.

"I think more people should volunteer to wake up and hear other people's stories. We could be your parents. It could be yourself, no matter what age you are. We are saving a life."

The Heart Foundation's Medical Director Dr Gerry Devlin praised the efforts of Eric and all the other volunteers around the country who've contributed to helping save lives. "A few hours of volunteers' time can make a huge difference to our ability to improve lives."

The Heart Foundation is New Zealand’s leading independent funder of heart research. Since 1968, it has funded more than $74 million in research and specialist training. Find out more about the research that Eric's and other volunteers' efforts have helped make possible.

How to volunteer