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Kōrero with others helped Kipa’s healing journey

As the youngest of 10 siblings and with a solid connection to his marae, Kipa (Tūhourangi, Te Awara waka) has always understood the value of whānau and community. So, when he was diagnosed with a heart condition earlier this year, it was kōrero and support from others that got him through.

When Kipa phoned the nurse at the local primary care centre in April 2022, he never expected the call to lead to a 10-day stay in hospital. After all, he wasn’t even sure if the vague symptoms he was experiencing were connected to his heart.

The day had begun like any other at the Auckland school where Kipa works as a special needs teacher. But as the day wore on, he began to feel tired, dizzy, and nauseous.

“I thought to myself, something might be happening”. So I phoned the nurse, and she said you need to go into A and E,” Kipa says.

The doctors carried out a range of tests at the hospital, and Kipa was eventually admitted to the cardiac ward.

A couple of days later, the cardiologist told Kipa he needed an angiogram to look for blockages in his arteries and further tests to see how his heart was functioning.

“I was a little nervous. From the moment I was told I was going to the cardio ward, I was kind of in shock,” Kipa remembers. “I really didn’t know anything about symptoms related to the heart. My heart felt okay, but I was experiencing dizziness, sweats, nausea, and breathlessness.”

Good news and bad

“On the day of my angiogram, I was very concerned about the result,” says Kipa.

The angiogram showed Kipa’s arteries were clear, and there was no need for stenting. However, further tests showed an aortic aneurysm, a bulge in the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Although aneurysms can be managed with treatment, they don’t go away. Surgery can be needed if the aneurysm becomes too large and is at risk of bursting.

“I was very shocked to hear that,” says Kipa.

A new regime for heart health

Having been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2010, Kipa was instructed to continue his treatment and start the new medication to control his heart function. He was also given a fitness programme and encouraged to stay healthy and positive. A follow-up cardiology appointment was booked for 12 months.

The first week at home was a challenge, both physically and mentally. Kipa wasn’t sleeping, and it took a while for his body to get used to the new medications. 

To manage his anxiety, he researched his condition and medications. He read about how other people coped with similar heart conditions.

“When I left the hospital, I felt anxious. I was struggling, but with support from the Heart Foundation nurse and my friends and family, I understood that this was a stage of recovery. Sure enough, after a month, I felt much better,” Kipa says.

“I felt comfort knowing others had been on their own journey. I saw they had an experience, and I started healing and feeling more positive.”

A positive attitude helps improve physical health

As he started to heal emotionally, Kipa also took positive steps to make other healthy changes.

“I have no problem taking my medication, and I have started attending workshops on diabetes management. They’ve given me more confidence to manage it, and I’m looking and feeling much healthier.

“I’ve adopted an exercise regime; I have reduced my weight, which I believe has helped my heart. I’ve also improved my diet. Diet control, exercise and medication are the three things that I do better now.

“I haven’t had any setbacks, and I think it’s because of my positive attitude. But if I do, I know how to recover again. If I want to show others I’m okay, I need to be okay.”

Be kind to your heart to live a long life

Kipa acknowledges that experiencing shock and denial was part of the recovery process. He says it still lingers a little bit because his aorta will not improve. Still, he knows the importance of being kind to his heart through heart-healthy eating, exercise and medication.

“This is my life; I want to live as long as possible. So, I will follow that as a guideline for a long life.”

Kipa recalls looking at his blister pack of pills and thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, how can these all work together in my body?’. But now he says he feels good and doesn’t feel any side effects or harm from them.

“I don’t want people to be afraid. I want people to know that medication is there to help. There are people out there you can talk with and listen to. Just make your journey as strong as possible.”

When it comes to exercise, he encourages people to find something that motivates them to move, whatever that might be. For Kipa, it’s tennis.

“I used to play when I was younger, but now I’ve picked it back up. It’s something that I like doing, and it gets me up and moving. You’re more likely to do it if you like it.”
 

Support from whānau

Kipa says he has gotten through the experience thanks to close friends and community groups, including a senior choir group.

“When I got out of the hospital, they were very welcoming of me and shared a little bit about their life because some had had stents and heart operations. Hearing them talk from experience and share their journey made me feel less alone.”

Now he’s sharing his journey to help in the same way.

Kipa says his most important tip is to be kind to yourself and stay as positive as possible.

“Take little steps. Try and value the moment you’re in and stay positive. Be aware of it and appreciate what you have right now.

“If I have any dark-clouded thoughts, I try not to let them hover over me for too long. You have to pick yourself up again; if you can’t, you must find someone else who will prop you up. I’ve got my partner, thankfully.

“I’m in a good space at the moment. I know things can slip, but I don’t want to go back. I want to stay healthy, active and strong. If anyone is going through this, they have my love, support and empathy. It will be okay if you make the right decisions. Take care of yourself.”

Shared December 2022

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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