Revolution in cardiac treatment recalled at opening

Heart Foundation chief executive Tony Duncan (left) and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull at the opening of...
Heart Foundation chief executive Tony Duncan (left) and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull at the opening of the Heart Foundation's new base in Hanover St. Photo by Jane Dawber.

Hit by a "massive" heart attack at the age of just 37, Dunedin woman June Gold was told her life had changed for good and there were some things she would never do again.

Now 81, she remembers the shock of being told she would not be able to do many chores central to her role as a mother of four. The list of forbidden activities included hanging out washing and picking fruit.

But that changed when she was referred to Dr Ted Nye, a heart physician at Dunedin Hospital and co-founder of the Phoenix Club.

Dr Nye encouraged heart patients to exercise rather than merely rest, which raised quite a few eyebrows, Mrs Gold said.

Both were present at the official opening of the Heart Foundation's new Otago headquarters in Hanover St, Dunedin, yesterday.

Chief executive Tony Duncan, of Auckland, said the foundation was honoured by Dr Nye's attendance, as he pioneered many of the ideas now central to the foundation's work.

At the time, the rehabilitation and prevention methods practised through the Phoenix Club, a New Zealand first, were quite controversial, Mr Duncan said.

He said the foundation was pleased to retain a central location near Dunedin Hospital and the Dunedin School of Medicine, having left its former Dunedin base because of structural issues.

Asked about the heart health club, Dr Nye was keen to credit the late Prof John Hunter with its inception in 1967.

Dr Nye said he was part of the Dunedin group which, in line with developments overseas, became interested in preventive cardiology. This entailed getting cardiology patients up and moving.

At the time, there was little people were told to do after a heart attack except rest.

"People were critical. They thought it was a bit over the edge."

Dr Nye (86), a former associate professor at the University of Otago, retired 20 years ago.

Mrs Gold said Dr Nye told her: "You don't need rest, you need exercise."

She remembered when Dr Nye took heart patients to walk the Milford Track, which sparked a lot of public comment, including a story raising concern in the Otago Daily Times.

"[Some people] were sure someone would die."

She joined the Phoenix Club at the instruction of Dr Nye and was still an active member decades later.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull attended the opening, strongly praising the foundation's work.

• Mr Duncan told the ODT he yesterday had a meeting with Diabetes Otago, which remains in the Frederick St building the two organisations co-own. He presented Diabetes Otago with a figure to consider for the foundation's share of the building.

The ODT reported yesterday Diabetes Otago wanted to stay in the building, and might carry out earthquake strengthening work of about $250,000.

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