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Breathlessness mistaken for asthma

Kerri thought her breathlessness was asthma, so to be told she had heart failure and needed valve surgery was quite a shock.

Kerri talks about her journey with heart valve disease and heart failure

Kerri had always assumed the breathlessness she suffered on a regular basis was a symptom of her asthma or other mild ailments.

“I thought I had a cold or I thought I was gluten intolerant. I just lived life normally, but if we were going out places or anything I couldn’t walk upstairs because I was always short of breath which I thought was my asthma,” explains the mother of one, who at the time was in her early thirties.

The first indication it could be a heart problem came when her GP noticed a heart murmur at a routine appointment. The doctor put Kerri on a waiting list to see a cardiologist, but told her to go to hospital if she ever noticed any swelling.

Before she got her appointment, she ended up in hospital. “My legs started swelling. I would come home from work put my feet up and the swelling would go away. Then I went out for dinner for my niece’s birthday, my legs were swollen when we got home and the next day they were still swollen. And I said to my husband I think we’d better go to hospital.”

From asthma to heart failure

It was then she was delivered some shocking news. “They said I was in the final stages of heart failure – and here we were thinking it was just asthma.”

Kerri spent a week in Rotorua hospital and a week in Waikato hospital, where she was told two of her heart valves were weak and would need surgery.

A couple of weeks later she had surgery to replace the two valves and had a pacemaker put in.

Because she may choose to get pregnant again in future, Kerri opted to have tissue valves, rather than manufactured mechanical valves which, in most cases, require recipients to take a blood thinner on a permanent basis.

She says there has been one unusual side effect as a result of the valve replacements. “They replaced both my valves with pig valves, and I cannot eat pork or bacon now. I think it’s just a mental thing because I loved pork chops – they were my favourite.”

Kerri admits her journey has been an emotional one, but says she’s always stayed positive. “It was a rollercoaster ride when it came to my emotions. And they said to us when I was in hospital you may cry when you’re talking about this and things which I did. But I’m a positive thinker, I never thought, I’m going to die.”

She’s made positive lifestyle changes too, eating more healthily and getting outside to do more exercise.

“It’s a change for the good. Maybe you need a bit of a scare to give you a bit of life perspective.” 


Shared July 2017

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

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  • sophia 29 September 2019

    I’m 32 and I have 2 kids,last month,I was diagnose with heart block without symptoms. I’m schedule next month for pacemaker implant and I’m scared.thanks for sharing your experience it’s helpful.

  • Heather 3 March 2018

    Thank you, Kerri, for sharing your story in such a lovely way.  I hope that by doing so you will encourage other folk to think about their health and what steps they can take to avoid serious heart conditions.