CRAIG Esler has twice survived silent heart attacks and, with the help of the Heart Foundation, the Masterton father is today living life on his own terms.
The Wairarapa branch of the foundation is appealing for donations "to continue its fight against heart disease" with a street appeal in the region today and tomorrow, to which Mr Esler is urging people to be generous.
His involvement with the group began after a three-day transtasman trip to see two of his three adult children in October last year, he said.
"They both live in Melbourne, so I thought I'd go over for a long weekend and just say 'hi' and catch up. We went out for dinner on the Friday and had a good night but I woke up in the morning with a bad headache and feeling a little light-headed."
He had not improved by noon so his son Ryan took him to a nearby medical centre, Mr Esler said, where he cleared an ECG test but was found to have high blood pressure, for which he was treated before being sent home.
That night his son said he was "still not looking too flash" and insisted he would take him to a nearby hospital for another check.
"They said my blood pressure was fine the second time and that there was a little bit of a flutter on the ECG. But they came back about 10 minutes after taking blood and said 'don't move, you've had a heart attack'.
"They hooked me up to all sorts of things and put me in an ambulance and when they asked about chest pain, I told them there had been none at all. I didn't feel a thing. Then they said this was my second one and that I'd had one about three months prior."
He was taken to a new hospital with a fully-equipped cardiac wing where he underwent surgery and received two stents. He was forbidden from flying for a week and soon after arriving back home, was contacted by the Heart Foundation.
He attended cardiac rehab sessions over about six weeks at Wairarapa Hospital and found the education and support he received invaluable.
"I thoroughly recommend it. I learnt a lot about what was going on with my heart and about the different types of medication and their side effects. There was a session on exercise and another on diet.
"I urge anyone who does have a heart attack to go along. The more you know the better you are really."
Mr Esler hoped donors will dig deep for the Heart Foundation street appeal, as "you don't realise how important groups like that are until until you experience something yourself".
Throughout February, thousands of volunteers across New Zealand will be hitting the streets to raise funds for the month-long Heart Foundation Annual Appeal.
Heart Foundation medical director Gerry Devlin said heart disease was the "biggest killer" in New Zealand, claiming about 6000 Kiwis each year.
The appeal was the largest fundraising and awareness campaign of the year for the Heart Foundation nationally and was vital for the group.
"While we have seen a dramatic reduction in death from heart disease over the last 40 years, more than one New Zealander still dies from heart disease every 90 minutes.
He urged generosity when appeal volunteers call and "to give what you can to the cause".