Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has revealed he could have died after suffering a heart attack at the weekend and being rushed to Auckland Hospital where he underwent two operations.
Goff said one of his arteries was completely blocked off and "if the blockage had of occurred in the other (main) artery it could have been fatal".
The main artery was 75 per cent blocked.
In an exclusive interview with the Herald, the 64-year-old politician has spoken about the events leading up to the heart attack, a family history of heart disease that claimed the life of his older brother, brilliant treatment from the public health system and stern words from his wife Mary.
"I told her [Mary] I might go to a meeting and she ripped me to shreds, telling me 'I'm taking you home and you are staying there for the rest of the week'," Goff told the Herald before being discharged from Middlemore Hospital yesterday afternoon.
"I should go out and buy a Lotto ticket. I was pretty lucky in regards to my brother and, for that matter, Len Brown."
Brown, the first mayor of the Super City, collapsed on stage from a major heart attack at the Pacific Music Awards in 2008 when he was Mayor of Manukau City. He returned to work several months later.
Goff said heart disease is a genetic problem that runs in the family. His older brother Warren, collapsed and died from a heart attack at the age of 58 in 2007. His great-great grandmother, who had 13 children, died of a heart attack aged 56 and an uncle had a triple heart bypass.
Events leading up to the heart attack
The mayor touched down at Auckland Airport last Thursday morning after spending three days in Hong Kong promoting business and closer economic ties between Auckland and the Asian powerhouse.
He went home, managed to have a shower because power had just come back on to his farmlet at Clevedon after Tuesday's cyclone, and headed to work in the city.
On Friday, Goff said, he had a little bit of indigestion and felt a bit of pressure on his chest, but did not feel the heart attack symptoms of severe pain, dizziness and nausea.
"I knew the family history and what some of the symptoms were and thought it might be a minor thing," he said.
At some point, the mayor suffered a heart attack. After a bad night's sleep on Firday and persisting aches, Goff thought he should get a check up.
At 6.30am on Saturday, he went to East Care Medical and Care Clinic near Pakuranga where he had an electrocardiogram( ECG) scan to measure the activity of his heart.
Doctors put Goff in an ambulance and an hour later he was lying on an operating table in Auckland City Hospital.
The surgical procedures
There, he had a two-hour angioplasty, a minimally invasive procedure that involved a wire being placed in his wrist and through arteries to open a blocked coronary artery.
Later in the day Goff had a second angioplasty. One artery was completely blocked and the major artery to the heart was 75 per cent blocked, he said.
The angioplasty involved placing a number of stents, or metal mesh tubes, into the narrowed arteries to keep them open and improve blood flow to the heart muscle.
Professor Harvey White, a senior cardiologist at Auckland City Hospital, said angioplasty was a routine operation and the risks are less than 1 per cent.
Angioplasty is a response to a build-up of cholesterol, leading to the surface rupturing and causing a blood clot to block off the artery.
"When that happens the heart does not get enough blood with oxygen and a small area dies, which is what a heart attack is," White said.
Goff said the procedures were a success and later on Saturday he was feeling great.
"I am back to normal and, in fact, will be better than normal in a couple of weeks," he said.
For the next year or two, Goff will be on medication, but does not envisage much change to a workaholic lifestyle that involves 12-to-13 hour days.
He does not smoke, is not a big drinker, ran this year's Round The Bays race, gets some exercise looking after steers and sheep on his 8ha farmlet and has a trim figure. Goff boasts his staff cannot keep up with him walking between meetings.
"I could eat a bit better. I've got a weakness for chocolate," he said.
White said the events of the past few days were a wake-up to Goff that he was not immune to illness and would have to modify his lifestyle, including 30 minutes brisk walking a day and eating a Mediterranean diet.
"It's fantastic to see him about to return to work," said White, who said the mayor should not go to meetings for two weeks, but could read papers and talk on the telephone.
After returning home yesterday afternoon, Goff had a two-hour conference call with councillors and council staff on transport and other issues.
The public health system
Goff initially went to Auckland City Hospital for treatment and has spent the last couple of days recuperating at Middlemore Hospital in the Scott building, one of the hospital's leaky buildings under the spotlight.
"We have got a public health system in New Zealand that regardless of your position if you have got urgent health needs you get brilliant treatment and the staff are absolutely fantastic.
"As New Zealanders we should be very grateful for the quality of health care treatment. I give them 99.9 out of 100. The care is totally professional, totally caring and while we have got problems in our health system sometimes we just need to pause and reflect," Goff said.
Goff was elected Mayor of Auckland in 2016. Before that he had a long and distinguished career in Parliament as the Labour MP for Mt Roskill, served as Leader of the Opposition between 2008 and 2011 and held a number of senior cabinet positions.