‘Whānau and karakia got me through’ 

Shortly before Christmas 2020, Mereana found out she had rheumatic heart disease and needed surgery. Family and prayer helped her through the hard times. Now she’s sharing her story to help others. These are her words.

Ko Mereana Hona tōku ingoa. He uri ahau o te waka Mataatua Ngāti Awa Te Whānau ā Apanui. I tipu ake au i Whakatāne, i te taha tōku Whaea. Ko Te Ātihaunui a Pāpārangi tōku Pāpā.

Kei te ora tonu au koirā te mea nui, me tōku whānau tino rawe rātou.

My whānau are good and I’m still alive, that’s the main thing. I’m here to tell my story.

I have 10 children (my own children and my stepchildren) and 14 mokopuna (grandchildren). The majority of them live here in Tāmaki Makaurau. They’re my world. Through this whole ordeal they’ve been very supportive, and I couldn’t ask for anything better.

An unexpected Christmas

It was a week before Christmas 2020. I was short of breath and having these attacks, like anxiety attacks, where I couldn’t breathe. It was happening every hour and I thought, ‘That’s not normal!’ So, I went into A&E at Middlemore Hospital and that’s where it all started.

I’d had rheumatic fever and strep throat as a child, apparently, and it had done so much damage that I had two years to live. It could have been less. The doctor said, “Your heart’s not going to survive.”

Plus, I also had high blood pressure. At the time I found out, years ago, I’d thought, ‘High blood pressure, that’s okay.’ But left untreated it had enlarged my aorta (the largest artery in the body). So, I had quite a series of problems with my heart. I needed my aorta repaired and two heart valves replaced.

When the doctors told me I thought, ‘I can’t! I’ve got to have Christmas, and after that I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ve got this plan, we’ve got these wānanga (meeting) plans, as you do.’ I said, “Oh I can’t be in here too long. Let’s just have that operation and we’ll be out in a week or so.”

Whānau and karakia

At first, it was really difficult for me to accept that I needed to have an operation. But then I thought it’s not about me, I need to get better so that I can share my life with my grandchildren and my children. I needed do it for them and for my partner. He was there for me every day. I needed to be strong for them. So those things made me well.

Another thing that helped me get better was my spiritual side. I have my connection with God, my connection with Io. I needed to look at that in terms of prayer, karakia prayer, and I knew that would help me.

It was such an experience. As well as the physical side, I needed something else to guide me and to caress me, and that was my spiritual side. And that helped me through it.

Living with the changes

There’s a few things that have changed, both physically and mentally. Something I was always proud of was my voice. I had quite a strong voice and I love waiata (songs) and anything Māori, even doing the karanga (calls used to welcome visitors onto the marae).

Unfortunately, the surgery has affected my korokoro (throat). I was quite disappointed but then I thought, ‘Kei te ora tonu koe – you’re still alive.’ And maybe in time it will get better.

Advice for whānau

Haere ki te tākuta. Tiakina to tinana me to hauora. Go to the doctor. Take care of your body and your overall wellbeing.

It’s about looking after yourself and not being shy about it. Just go and get regular checks and when you get medication, take it.

For example, I had high blood pressure. I’ve known I’ve had high blood pressure since I was 20. I didn’t take the pills and that affected my heart.

And take care of your body, if not for yourself for your grandchildren, they’re the next generation. They see how you drink, how you eat and all that stuff. So, it’s about teaching them the right things.

Get good support and find your purpose

Familiarity is the key to the wellbeing. It’s about knowing the right people and being able to access services – and knowing that people actually do care.

Also, one of the things I forgot, was that my whānau needed support too, in terms of processing it. It wasn’t just about me, it was about everyone I’m close to. They needed support as well. Even though they were my rongoā (healers), for my wellbeing, they needed rongoā too – they needed some sort of medicine for their wellbeing.

One thing I didn’t do well was take care of myself, I put everyone first except myself. That’s a trait or value that my Kuia (grandmother) and my Koroua (grandfather) bought us up with – to put others first. My children tell me: “Mum you need to look after yourself!”

But I’m getting there. It will take a while, but God’s given me a reason to live again. It’s about looking after myself and also I’ve got a new purpose in life. My purpose in life is to help others.

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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