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Wahine with attitude

Chess Severyn-Parrish is on a mission to show others who have experienced a serious heart event that life can go on – and even get better.

When Chess felt pain in her chest last September, she put it down to muscle strain from heavy lifting at work the day before.

“But I’d experienced the same pain earlier in the year so I decided to visit to my GP, who carried out tests which showed I’d actually had a significant heart event,” she says. 

Chess headed off to Wellington Hospital for three days and had a stent inserted to open up the blocked artery, allowing the blood to flow normally to her heart.  

Then it was back home to start the hard work – addressing her health and lifestyle.

“I knew I’d been given the opportunity to influence my future and I was ready to make some changes. But that didn’t prepare me for the intense emotions I felt during my recovery,” she recalls.

Chess, 46, faced a number of challenges to improving her heart-health, including her Maori ethnicity, excess weight, smoking, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and a family history of heart disease.

She took her prescribed medication and quickly set about improving her diet, increasing her level of exercise and quitting smoking.

“I was a tobacco addict and even though I immediately gave up smoking, I really struggled with resentment and anger at having to make that decision without planning,” she says.

“Having a heart attack was traumatic enough without having to cope with my smoking addiction on top of that. But I have, and continue to be smokefree”.

“But my goal is to ‘do better today than I did yesterday’, before my heart attack”. I see my new life as a marathon, not a sprint. It’s about sustained endurance being the key to lasting improvement.”

One of the most helpful things for Chess was starting an exercise group for women called ‘Wahines With Attitude’.

“Through this group I’ve been able to both receive and offer support. Enjoying that company and team spirit has helped me feel motivated and have fun, while doing something positive for my body.”

Chess is now passionate about urging others to make good life choices, rather than be forced into them by ill health.

Far from being overwhelmed and sad about her experience, Chess is getting on with her life with a new vigour and a positive attitude.

Her decision to seek help and then adopt sensible, sustainable lifestyle changes are paying dividends for her and others.

The Heart Foundation would like to thank Chess for sharing her story to help raise awareness of heart disease.