Warning of heart attack

Phil Sunitsch, of Dunedin, was in doubt about chest pains, so he got them checked out and has...
Phil Sunitsch, of Dunedin, was in doubt about chest pains, so he got them checked out and has avoided serious consequences. Photo by Peter McIntosh.

When Phil Sunitsch had an ache in his chest last month, he put it down to heartburn and dismissed it with a "she'll be right'' attitude.

But two days later, it came back - this time with an ache in his elbows, and pain in his left wrist and the teeth in his lower jaw.

"I just felt generally blah.''

Again, the 49-year-old Dunedin social worker thought it was probably nothing, just some bug.

After all, he was pretty fit and had been to the gym earlier that day, where he worked out particularly hard.

But after seeing one of those advertisements on television, on how to spot someone having a heart attack, he was feeling a little uneasy about the situation and went to the hospital to get checked.

"I thought it was better to be safe than sorry.''

It turns out, he had blockages in the arteries leading to his heart and he was having a heart attack.

"It seemed so illogical that I was having a heart attack because I was so fit and well. I go to the gym five times a week.

"Honestly, if it hadn't been for that ad on TV, I would have gone to bed and something much worse could have happened.

"It was the ad that pointed out to me that something serious could be going on here.

"I hate to think what the outcome would have been if I hadn't gone to the hospital to get checked out. It could have been death.

"I was a ticking time-bomb,'' he said.

After two weeks in hospital and two stents put in place to relieve the blockages in the arteries around his heart, he is now on medication and his doctors expect him to have a full and speedy recovery.

Mr Sunitsch said his new motto was, "If in doubt, get it checked out.''

"I think us blokes are taught to put our bodies on the line, but I think we just need to be aware that our health is precious and we need to look after it - if not for ourselves, but for our families as well.''

During the past month, the New Zealand Heart Foundation has been running a television commercial, highlighting the symptoms of a heart attack. It is part of the foundation's national Heart Attack Awareness campaign.

It aims to encourage New Zealanders to put aside their casual attitudes and dial 111 immediately if they suspect they, or another person, is having a heart attack.

Foundation medical director Gerry Devlin said too many New Zealanders were placing themselves at increased risk of death or permanent heart damage by putting off that important call.

"The traditional Kiwi 'she'll be right' attitude can be fatal.

"When a heart attack happens, life-threatening rhythm problems are common. As such, early access to a defibrillator is really important to save lives.

"Also, the earlier the blocked artery is opened up, the less long-term damage there is to the heart muscle. Speed is critical.''

He said symptoms of a heart attack included chest discomfort lasting 10 minutes or more; pain that spreads to the jaw, shoulders or back; excessive sweating; shortness of breath; and nausea.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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