Corazon Miller is a NZ Herald reporter

The silent killer: Miriama Kamo shares family stroke history as a lesson to Kiwis

For most of her life Miriama Kamo has known of the damage stroke can wreak on a previously healthy mind and body, with her nana dying of a stroke in her 70s, her father at high risk of a stroke, and while pregnant the TV presenter had her own brush with high blood pressure.

Her family history was a major factor in the mother-of-two's decision to back next month's Stroke Foundation NZ Blood Pressure Check campaign.

Kamo, 42, first encountered stroke when she was only 10 when her grandmother, Sarah Thelma [Kui] Whaitiri, had one.

She said the toughest thing was seeing her "battle-axe" of a nana lose her ability to speak to the stroke.

"She was such a determined woman, so to not be able to speak for herself was a source of enormous frustration for her," she said. "What I noticed most of all was her frustration and her sadness at being affected in this way.

"From my perspective she was still my nana and I still adored her and nothing was different apart from the fact that she couldn't speak properly."

Then when Kamo was pregnant with her daughter, Te Rerehua, now 5, she herself was at risk of stroke, when she suffered high blood pressure.

The TV presenter said it was a little worrying at 39 weeks to have to go into hospital as a result of her blood pressure heading "off the charts".

But because she was aware of the signs to keep an eye out for, Kamo said she was able to get herself into the safest place possible.

Today it's her father, Raynol Kamo, 83, and his health that's always at the back of her mind.

"We are always quite wired to respond," she said. "I didn't know if we'd lose him, or if he came back, at what level he'd be coming back to us."

Miriama Kamo. Photo / Dean Purcell
Miriama Kamo. Photo / Dean Purcell

Her father is prone to regular transient ischemic attacks [TIA], which in layman's terms is a warning signal a stroke could be nigh.

Caused by a clot, the TIA differs from a stroke in that the clot occurs quickly and lasts a relatively short time, and usually causes no permanent injury to the brain.

Kamo said over the last few years there'd been several signs a TIA might have occurred; her dad could get absent-minded occasionally, sometimes his speech would get a bit muddled and at least once he collapsed completely.

"Thank god, he came back absolutely fine and we've been so incredibly lucky that every time he's had a TIA or a health issue he's come back to health and we've got our dad back."

She was very proud of her father at how he handled his health issues.

"He stopped a lifetime's habit of smoking, he walks daily, he watches his diet, he goes to social groups...he takes buses, he's a determined and independent man and I reckon it's his attitude that has seen him come so far."

Kamo was now urging Kiwis to do their bit to be aware of their own blood pressure and risk of having a stroke.

She encouraged people to get their blood pressure checked regularly and if ever concerned to get help fast - as time was of the essence in reducing any long-term damage.

As part of the Stroke Foundation drive on October 1, Kiwis will be able to get their blood pressure checked, for free, at one of the roughly 200 venues around the country.

Health promotion manager at the foundation, Julia Rout, said it was all about encouraging Kiwis to get their blood pressure checked regularly, "just like they check oil in their car".

"It's a silent killer, as it often has no signs or symptoms: sometimes stroke is the first symptom."

Rout said people should get their blood pressure checked at least every six months to a year.

"It's so painless and easy, there's no blood or needles or anything, it's so quick but it could save your life."

Rout said there were a number of things people could do to keep their blood pressure down including maintaining a healthy diet, reducing salt and alcohol intake and exercising regularly.

"We don't want to be the fun police," she said. "But the reality is stroke is not fun."

Big NZ Blood Pressure Check

• October 1
• Get your blood pressure checked at most Pak'n Save and New World supermarkets
Full list of places to get checked

About your blood pressure

• BP is the pressure on blood vessel walls as blood travels around the body
• Standard range is around 120/80: High blood pressure is classed as over 140/90
• The higher number is the systolic pressure, measured as your heart pumps
• The lower number is the diastolic pressure, measured as your heart rests between pumps
• To lower your blood pressure, eat a healthy diet, eat less salt, don't smoke, get active and keep your alcohol intake low.

- NZ Herald

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