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From open heart surgery to personal trainer

Peneueta was in his early 30s when he was shocked to discover he needed open heart surgery. He explains how he coped and how the experience triggered a new career path as a personal trainer.

Peneueta tells his story

Peneueta's heart journey began back in 2017 with a sore throat.

A visit to the GP and a swab confirmed 'strep throat', a condition that can cause rheumatic heart disease. At the same time, Peneueta's GP also noticed some heart rate and rhythm irregularities.

The 32-year-old was immediately referred to the Manukau SuperClinic for further scans. The results showed that the problem with his heart wasn't rheumatic heart disease after all. Instead, it was a hole in the structure of Peneueta's heart (a septal defect).

"The specialist said it was due to a heart defect, so it was new to me. I'd never known I had heart issues before," Peneueta says. He was surprised to learn that he'd had the condition since birth.

Peneueta was given medication to ease the load on his heart until he could undergo open heart surgery three months later.

Open heart surgery

Peneueta had "a what will be will be attitude" going into the surgery but admits the time was more worrying for his wife, who got good support from family.

"It was intense," says Peneueta, thinking back to the time of the operation. "My wife and I, we were scared. She was scared, and I was scared for her."

The surgery was successful, and the next thing Peneueta remembers is the 'weird' sensation of waking up with a tube down his throat and pain in his chest and back.

"It felt like everything was out of place. I couldn't sleep for that first night, but I think after the initial night, it was ok."

He said the atmosphere in the cardiac ward was really supportive, and after a week or so, he returned home for further recovery.

"Support at home mentally helped me get through a lot," Peneueta says. "It was hard, just not being able to do things that I could have done before, like attending rugby games, league games, walking longer than five metres without getting tired—just feeling like I'm not a good-enough father. I felt like a person recovering from heart disease, not their dad. So that played a mental game with me."

Following his surgery, Peneueta pursued a new career as a personal trainer and now enjoys helping others lead a healthy, active lifestyle. He says one of the important parts of his job as a personal trainer is helping educate his clients so they can educate their own families and friends.

"One in three Pacific people die from cardiovascular disease, so I'd definitely encourage my people and my community to get checked out."

Shared June 2021

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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