Despite being plagued with heart problems since she was born in the mid-1960s, Whangārei woman Tracey McKenzie has always maintained a positive approach to life and has never allowed health challenges to get in the way of following her dreams.

McKenzie's heart problems began early in life when she was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition at the age of just 9 months.

At the time, she was failing to gain weight which led doctors to discover the health issue.

At 15 months, she was admitted to Auckland Hospital where she stayed for a prolonged period before heart surgery could be performed.

Advertisement

She is urging Northlanders to give to the Heart Foundation's Big Heart Appeal, which is being held today and tomorrow, with heart disease New Zealand's biggest killer that effects people of all ages.

McKenzie said it was stressful for her parents who were unable to see her for long stretches, while they also juggled work commitments – her father was a share milker - and her mother's second pregnancy.

"Fortunately, the aortic valve was successfully repaired during the operation and no further heart surgery was needed until many years later."

Despite such a rough start to life which included ongoing chest infections, she remained largely trouble free up until the age of 33.

"Unfortunately, somewhere between 1999 and 2010, I contracted rheumatic fever which went undiagnosed."

As a result of the damage that rheumatic fever caused her heart, another round of surgery had to be performed in 2010.

But the health challenges for Tracey didn't end there, when she suffered a stroke immediately after the operation.

Worse was to follow when in 2016 she had a heart attack while recovering from a routine operation on her ovaries.

Advertisement

The heart and health problems that plagued her had a huge impact on not only her but also family.

"There were long recovery periods spanning many months which meant that my being ill became a routine part of life for both my children and husband.

"The entire family had to work around these challenges and my self-employed husband had to juggle his work load while helping to care for the kids while I was in hospital,'' she said.

"My mother, sister and friends also stepped into the breach to help out wherever they could."

Maintaining a career was challenging as she had to take a lot of time off work to recover from illness and surgeries.

To this day, she struggles with things such as names and sometimes faces. She also adheres to a stringent medication schedule and is still grappling with heart palpitations.

Despite everything, McKenzie remains positive and has always held an optimistic 'can do' attitude to life.

McKenzie is giving back to the community by volunteering as a street collector for the Heart Foundation's Big Heart Appeal.