A Rotorua man who biked to work with what he thought was heartburn says it never crossed his mind he may be having a heart attack.

Senior Constable Rob Ball, a 57-year-old Youth Aid Officer for New Zealand Police, spoke to the Rotorua Daily Post as part of Heart Attack Awareness Month, urging others not to ignore chest pain but to seek urgent medical help.

The Heart Foundation is calling on Kiwis to put aside their "she'll be right attitude" and dial 111 immediately if they suspect they or another person is having a heart attack.

Mr Ball said he woke at 6am one Friday in May, got dressed and biked to work with heartburn, as far as he was concerned.


"It never entered my mind that I was having a heart attack."

After two hours sitting at his desk feeling crook, a colleague took him to Rotorua Hospital.

Mr Ball said he had felt like he was wasting people's time at the hospital but when he described his symptoms to the receptionist she took him straight through.

He had a pain across his chest, in a line, and it felt like someone was sitting on it, he said.

His first blood test came back normal, but after a second one, he was transferred to the cardiac unit.

"I had a really tough night, getting my head around what had happened to me."

The next day he was taken to Waikato Hospital and had an angiogram booked for the Monday morning.

At 8am on the Monday morning he suffered more chest pain, and when an electrocardiogram was done it "just went nuts".

He was rushed into surgery there and then.

"I was lucky, my artery was 99 per cent blocked."

Mr Ball said he had been "on a cocktail of drugs" since then and recovery had been a lot harder than he thought it would be.

He had been struggling with shortness of breath, feeling absolutely exhausted when he had not done anything, being irritable and feeling down.

"It's been physical, mental and tough, and to top it off putting strain on my family."

He said he was not sure when he would be returning to work, but hoped it would be sooner rather than later.

"One of the things I've realised is that if you're suffering from chest pain you need to get it looked at rather than just ignore it and hope it goes away."

He said people often carried on regardless, men in particular.

"I had put heart attacks into a box of what I thought it looked like and I realised that box doesn't fit me."

It was important people understood heart disease could be with them right now, adding heart disease killed more people in New Zealand than cancer.

He said fit people can be affected too.

Mr Ball said he wanted to thank the staff at the Rotorua Hospital Cardiac Clinic, Waikato Hospital Cardiac Unit and his family for their support and encouragement.

Heart 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."

- For more information visit www.heartfoundation.org.nz

Symptoms of a heart attack can include:

• Chest discomfort lasting 10 minutes or more
• Pain that spreads to the jaw, shoulders or back
• Excessive sweating
• Shortness of breath
• Nausea