Top cardiologist and Heart Foundation Medical Director Gerry Devlin, says there are now 186,000 people living with heart disease according to the latest 2016-17 New Zealand Health Survey, a stark contrast from the 172,000 reported in the 2015-16 survey.

“Not only is this a sharp incline in a short period of time, the rates have increased across almost all age groups, not just the older populations.

“New Zealanders need to get out of the mind-set that heart disease only affects the elderly. While incidences of heart disease do increase as we get older, it is not uncommon today to see people presenting with significant heart problems in their forties and fifties. At times, even younger,” says Devlin.

This is supported by the New Zealand Health Survey, which has reported a consistent increase in people living with heart disease between the ages of 35-44 since 2011. The survey statistics are based on people with self-reported ischaemic heart disease who have either been admitted to hospital with a heart attack or been diagnosed with angina – typically temporary chest pain while doing exercise. The percentage of people with ischaemic heart disease was down from it’s peak of 5.5 cent in 2011-12 but was trending up again after plateauing at 4.6 per cent in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

The Heart Foundation is launching its annual Big Heart Appeal this week with the support of Dame Jenny Shipley and Sir Richard Hadle.

The Big Heart Appeal, which is raising money for life-saving heart research and specialist cardiac training, is also marking the Heart Foundation’s 50th anniversary in 2018.

This has sparked support from the likes of Dame Jenny Shipley and Sir Richard Hadlee. They are among a group of New Zealanders who have lived through a heart event and have stepped forward to support the Foundation’s 50th anniversary and its fundraising efforts.

“Having been diagnosed with Wolfe-Parkinson-White syndrome shortly after I retired, I find it shocking to learn that so many Kiwis are facing heart disease today,” says Hadlee, who has been well since his life-saving surgery.

“I bowled my last ball in Test cricket on 9 July 1990 and on 9 July 1991, I had my surgery. I feel lucky that I went on to make a strong recovery and continue to live an active and healthy life. But I don’t take that for granted and I believe the Heart Foundation’s significant investment into research and specialist training for New Zealand cardiologists has had a major impact on successful cases like mine,” says Hadlee.

Since the Heart Foundation began, it has invested more than $65 million into heart research, while specialist cardiac training is also funded. This is where cardiologists and researchers train overseas, and return to ensure New Zealanders receive the same world class care here.

It has been 18 years since Dame Jenny Shipley had her own heart attack back in 2000, when she was still in politics. While Shipley successfully manages her ongoing heart condition today, the former Prime Minister is also grateful for the advancement in medical care and support that ensures she can still juggle her busy life.

“The progress in cardiac care is outstanding and I have been impressed with the standard of treatment I have received while managing my own heart condition,” says Shipley.

“I attribute a lot of the exemplary care I have received to the Heart Foundation and the excellent work they do, ensuring New Zealand cardiologists have access to the very best in international training and innovation in patient care.

“But the fight against heart disease is far from over and the Heart Foundation still need our support,” says Shipley, who has been a patron of the organisation for several years.

Devlin agrees, stating that the Heart Foundation is the biggest independent funder of heart research in New Zealand.

“In addition to training, we have funded some amazing research breakthroughs as a result of donor’s generosity and support,” he says, adding that there has been a 75% reduction in the death rate from heart disease since the Heart Foundation began its work.

“But this doesn’t diminish the fact that heart disease is still our single biggest killer. With younger age groups now being affected, research is needed more than ever to address the issue,” says Devlin.

To support the Big Heart Appeal campaign, Hadlee and Shipley took part in a photo shoot alongside other heart disease survivors of various ages, backgrounds and conditions.

“I was amazed to meet a young man in his twenties who first had open heart-surgery when he was 15, another teenager that had a heart attack on the basketball court at the same age and a young mother with her six-year-old daughter, who both share the condition I was diagnosed with, Wolfe-Parkinson-White syndrome,” says Hadlee.

“This really highlighted to me that heart disease is an every person’s disease, impacting most Kiwis in one way or another. I would encourage New Zealanders to do their bit by supporting this important fundraising campaign,” he says.

The Big Heart Appeal’s nationwide street collection is taking place on Friday 23 and Saturday 24 February 2018, which will see thousands of Heart Foundation volunteers hitting the streets and shaking buckets to raise money for life-saving heart research.

People may also donate to the Big Heart Appeal via


Those featured in the photo, from left-right:

  • Bevan Ellis had his first valve replacement at 15 years old and his second at 27.
  • Celeste & Ava Esera, a mother and daughter with Wolfe-Parkinson-White syndrome.
  • Sela Alo is a Flava breakfast radio host who was diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation and then mitral valve regurgitation.
  • Dame Jenny Shipley had a heart attack in 2000 when she was still in politics, undergoing an angioplasty procedure.
  • Sir Richard Hadlee bowled his last ball in Test cricket on 9 July 1990 and on 9 July 1991, underwent surgery to address Wolfe-White-Parkinson syndrome
  • Cynthia Doole is a mother of two who had three heart attacks in 10 days at the age of 36 due to sudden coronary artery dissection (SCAD).
  • Professor Rob Doughty is a cardiologist and Heart Foundation Chair in Heart Health at the University of Auckland, who had his own heart attack in 2015.
  • Jarred Church had a cardiac arrest on the basketball court when he was 15, which left him in a coma. He had open-heart surgery and had to learn to walk and talk again as part of his recovery


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