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“Sitting together and talking is just what I needed”

Leonie found that talking to other survivors helped her regain her confidence after her heart attack and bypass surgery. She shares her story.

Hi my name is Leonie. I am 75 years old and live in Tokomaru Bay on the East Coast of the North Island.

I am married with two grown up children – a son who also lives here in Tokomaru Bay and a daughter who lives in Hastings. I am a proud grandmother of seven lovely grandchildren.

I have been a busy teacher for 50 years and still enjoy volunteer nanny reading at the local Hatea-A-Rangi school every Thursday.

I try to keep busy by reading, knitting, crosswords, and puzzles. I also spend time taking part in activities with our local senior citizens club, where I am also secretary.

My heart attack

My heart event happened four years ago, but it is still very clear in my mind.

Leading up to the event I was still spending time relieving teaching at our local school. Sometimes I felt quite worn out and tired, but children can take it out of you so I really didn’t think that much about it.

After a normal day visiting a friend, I got home and suddenly started to feel unwell. I told my husband and my son how I was feeling. My son looked at me and said, "I'm taking you to the hospital" (which is just a short distance from Tokomaru Bay at Te Puia Springs).

I am glad he did. After a few tests I was told I was having a heart attack. I think my son must have seen it in my face.

I was in shock, but it really didn’t sink in at first. This was serious!

I was taken by ambulance to Gisborne Hospital as the weather wouldn’t allow for the helicopter to fly. I spent the night in the intensive care unit (ICU) and was told in the morning I would be flown to Waikato Hospital.

Heart tests reveal need for surgery

More tests were done when I arrived at Waikato and I was told I would need a quadruple bypass, which happened 10 days later.

Everything went well with the surgery but my recovery was delayed by ongoing problems with fluid build-up in my lungs and my lungs not inflating like they should. I spent another week in ICU in Waikato Hospital while the staff worked to sort this out. After a total of three weeks in hospital I was given the all clear to leave.

I decided to stay with my sister to help with my recovery, she lived in Hamilton. This only lasted three days and I was straight back into hospital. This time I needed a stent.

After another two weeks in Waikato Hospital I was once again given clearance by my surgeon and went back to my sister's home for an additional month of recovery before heading home to my husband and family in Tokomaru Bay.

Things went well for nine months until one day I had excruciating pain in my stomach, I had never felt anything like it. I was rushed to Gisborne Hospital where I was diagnosed to have had an internal bleed. I was taken off all of my heart medication and spent three days in hospital getting it sorted out.

I am now on blood pressure and cholesterol meds, cartia and furosemide to control my body fluid.

I’m happy to say I haven’t had any problems since and I have regular check-ups with my local GP here on the coast.

Support after heart surgery

After my heart surgery I went to the eight week cardiac rehab course in Gisborne with Sport Gisborne and other agencies. I found it very helpful and, although my family has been very supportive, I wish we had a support group here on the coast.

I think the biggest thing I have struggled with is losing my confidence. After coming home I was scared to do the usual things I would always do. I didn’t want to go out anywhere or mix with other people. I think it probably took me over a year to get over these feelings.

Even now I sometimes feel insecure and uneasy. I have since spoken to a couple of people from my community who have also had heart events. It has been so very valuable for me to talk to those that understand what I went through and who have had similar feelings and experiences.

Sitting together and talking is just what I needed, I no longer feel isolated but instead feel more supported because I have been able to share my journey with them.


Shared August 2019

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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