Going a step further to reduce risk

Helping raise funds for the Heart Foundation for more than ten years is Tom Ross, of Kaikorai....
Helping raise funds for the Heart Foundation for more than ten years is Tom Ross, of Kaikorai. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
After a heart episode led to an operation at Dunedin Hospital, Tom Ross, of Kaikorai, decided to not only volunteer for the Heart Foundation, but also establish a way for people to keep fit and reduce the risk of heart problems. The Star reporter Simon Henderson meets a volunteer with a big heart. 

Fundraising is fun, serial volunteer Tom Ross says.

For about ten years he has staked out a spot at local supermarkets to raise funds for the Heart Foundation.

He believes a friendly, human approach works well.

"Fundraising is not run by computer, computers don’t smile at you."

Instead his attitude was to talk to everyone.

"You’ve got to make eye contact with the people."

His journey into fundraising began with his own heart episode.

"I had a headache one night, and it wouldn’t go away, so I decided to go to the doctor."

His doctor said they thought he had a heart attack, but he felt fine enough to turn down an ambulance, instead getting a taxi to the emergency department.

After some tests including an X-ray, Mr Ross had an operation to insert a stent into a narrowed artery. After his operation he was provided information about a group for cardiac patients to help with recovery.

Seeing it offered programmes in the evening he decided that was not right for him as he did not want to exercise at night.

Instead, he reached out to Unipol, the recreation centre affiliated with the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic.

"I approached Unipol and said, do you have excess time?

"And they said, yeah, after nine o’clock in the morning, nine till twelve, there’s hardly anyone around, because all the students are at the university working."

This led to him establishing The Larks, an exercise group which meets from 9am every Wednesday at Unipol.

For a low cost per session, people can take part in aerobics, weight training and stretching to warm down.

"It is run by a professional instructor."

The sessions are open to all, with Mr Ross just asking people to provide confidential medical information for emergency use.

Membership of the group has grown to more than 170 people, with about 30 to 50 turning up to each class.

With an average age of about 60, the focus was on people who may need a little more supervision due to health problems, but were looking to reduce the risk of a heart event.

The connections Mr Ross established through The Larks has an additional benefit, as each year when the Heart Foundation is looking for volunteers, he encourages members of the group to help him raise funds.

Heart Foundation medical director Dr Gerry Devlin said it was grateful for the help of volunteers such as Mr Ross.

"With heart disease claiming the life of one Kiwi every 90 minutes, volunteering for us is a vital way you can help in the fight against New Zealand’s single biggest killer."

The Heart Foundation is calling on big-hearted New Zealanders to gift a couple of hours on Friday, February 23 or Saturday, February 24 next year to volunteer as street collectors and raise funds for heart research.

• Signups are now open at heartfoundation.org.nz/volunteer