Heart check could save your life, survivor says

David Rutherford wants people to have a cardiovascular check before it's too late. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
David Rutherford wants people to have a cardiovascular check before it's too late. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
A South Dunedin man's brush with New Zealand's biggest killer changed his life forever.

Triple bypass survivor David Rutherford (47) said cardiovascular disease killed more New Zealanders than any other disease.

''Every 90 minutes, somebody dies of heart disease in New Zealand.''

In 2007, Mr Rutherford managed staff at a charitable trust called YouthWorks and coached the Otago Maori Colts rugby team, smoked tobacco but did not drink alcohol.

On holiday in Lake Hawea he felt a tightness in the chest.

''I thought I had picked up a virus and put myself to bed and spent 12 hours tossing and turning and sweating profusely [and] absolutely freezing cold. The next day, I never felt the same again. It felt like the hand-brake had been pulled on.''

He went to the doctor expecting a chest infection diagnosis but was rushed to the emergency department, when a test revealed he needed three stents inserted in his heart.

''One of my arteries was 97%blocked [by a build-up of fat and calcium deposits] and I probably had a couple of days [to live].''

Unfortunately, the three stents were blocked four months later so two more stents were inserted but failed, he said.

He had bypass surgery at Dunedin Hospital, where his breast bone was broken, his chest opened with rib spreaders and his mammary artery used to ''replumb'' his heart.

''It changes your life completely. As a family, we lost 70% of our income in the five minutes I got sick in Hawea. I lost my salary and company vehicle. I tried to work but I just wasn't physically capable.''

He worked part time at Wolfenden & Russell in South Dunedin but finished after 15 months because he was sweating uncontrollably and fell asleep on the job twice, he said.

''I was running myself into the ground and I was only doing four or five hours a day. It robs you of everything.''

In 2008, he volunteered at the Heart Foundation to encourage people to get a cardiovascular check by a doctor before it was too late. He would be collecting in Dunedin for Heart Week on Friday and Saturday, he said.

- shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

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