When Tauranga nurse Steven Gregory experienced his first heart problem he knew he was lucky to be in a hospital and was rushed to the emergency department straight away.

Mr Gregory, 59, suffers from Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation - a quickening of the pulse which could result in broken-off blood clots being pumped through the body.

The condition, caused by the heart's normal "timer" not working properly, could be fatal if blood clots travelled to areas such as the brain or heart.

"It feels as though your arms get very heavy and as if someone's thumped you in the chest. You feel wretched," he said.


"I was on the night shift and it happened. I knew it straight away."

Mr Gregory said he was surprised.

"I knew that I was under a great deal of personal stress and also had not been looking after myself as well as I should but the last thing I expected was to be diagnosed with a heart condition - it came completely out of the blue."

Mr Gregory was diagnosed in August 2013 and now takes medication daily to treat the attacks.

The medication helped but the condition was one where "I could stop taking medication and it might never happen again, but you don't know", Mr Gregory said.

Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation is one of three versions of the condition, and because it usually occurs in short bursts it is the least risky.

Persistent Atrial Fibrillation and Permanent Atrial Fibrillation are both as their names suggest.

Mr Gregory said he found it comforting being able to speak to others who had the same condition "because they understand".

"Unless you've had it yourself you don't really understand it. You need someone else who has already had it."

Mr Gregory found that with his condition, his role as a nurse helped a lot for the many patients he encountered with heart issues.

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"Let's put the experience I've had with the learning and education that I've had and put them together. It works," he said.

"I like cardiology anyway and it's just coincidence that this has happened to me."

Mr Gregory would be on the streets of Mount Maunganui today collecting for the Heart Foundation as part of their month-long appeal.

Heart Foundation medical director Gerry Devlin said while there had been a dramatic reduction in death from some form of heart disease over the last 40 years, more than one New Zealander still died from heart disease every 90 minutes.

"We also have more New Zealanders living with heart disease than ever before who rightly have an expectation to live a productive life."

Mr Devlin said the Heart Foundation's work to save lives had never been more important and funding for research was critical.

The Heart Foundation's street appeal was being held today in the Tauranga area.