Lying in an ambulance on her way to Auckland Hospital, Maggie Hunt quipped to the paramedics that she felt like such a fraud.
After having intense pain in her sternum for more than an hour, the then-60-year-old was sure it was just a bout of indigestion, but the urgent care doctor insisted on a trip to hospital for further investigations.
The next morning, after emergency heart surgery, Maggie was told she was lucky to be alive.
Sharing her experience to raise awareness of heart health and the danger signs to look for, Maggie reveals it was nothing like what heart attacks on TV might have you expect – no clutching of the chest or gasping for breath.
"I was at the supermarket on a Friday morning when I felt the first pain," she recalls. "It felt as though I had a golf ball stuck at the top of my stomach. I had grabbed a piece of toast earlier and scoffed it down quickly, and simply thought, 'Well, you must have eaten that too fast!'
She drove home, took some indigestion tablets and tried to lie down, yet the medication had no effect. Feeling clammy and with a "tingly" left arm, her pain kept coming in powerful waves.
"It raced through my mind, 'I wonder if I'm having a heart attack?'" tells Maggie, who runs her own marketing company and had been a regular gym-goer and walker.
"But I dismissed it because the pain wasn't in my chest and I thought, 'No, I'm too fit, I'm too young. There's no family history.' My cholesterol and blood pressure had been good, and I wasn't overweight."Her partner Cameron had left for a fishing trip in Rarotonga that morning, so there was no one home to drive her to the doctor.
"I recognised I needed some help and as there's a medical centre about 500 metres up the road, I thought, 'When the next wave passes, I'll just walk up there.' My GP almost had a fit when I told her later on. Well, I didn't think I was having a heart attack!"
Both the doctor and ambulance crew believed Maggie had stomach ulcers, and an ECG showed nothing concerning. However, hospital blood tests revealed elevated levels of troponin, a protein that shows up after a heart event. "The average level is 14 to 15 and mine was over 250. By the next morning, they were over 10,000," tells Maggie.
"The cardiologist came in and said, 'We think you've had a heart attack,' and it was kind of like, 'What?' I still didn't realise how serious it really was, though, until I was in the operating theatre and a member of the cardiac team made a passing comment about getting called in.
"I said, 'Oh, are you operating on a few people today?' and she replied, 'No, just you.' That's when the penny dropped that I might be in trouble."
Maggie had a 100 percent blockage in one of her main arteries and needed an angioplasty, a procedure that uses stents to improve blood flow to the heart.
After the operation, one of the nurses looked at Maggie's chart before exclaiming, 'Oh, you've been given a second chance, you're so lucky.'"
"My heart attack probably should have killed me," she reflects. "I did ask, 'Why am I not dead?' And the nurse said, 'I don't know, probably because you're fit.'"
After the heart attack in 2012, an echocardiogram showed Maggie's heart was pumping at 42 percent, with part of her heart being dead. Three years later, it was down to 30 percent, indicating
She now has an implanted cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) in her chest to continuously monitor her heartbeat and deliver an electric shock, when needed, to restore a regular heart rhythm.
"And it hasn't gone off yet," laughs the bubbly 70-year-old.
When asked why she thinks she was susceptible to a heart attack despite being in good health, Maggie answers with one word – "stress".
"I was a busy, busy person… rushing everywhere, working full-time running my own sales and marketing business," she explains.
"I was pushing myself very hard and I'm a person who hid my stress, always just carrying on."
Determined to make the best of her second chance, Maggie knew she had to ease off work. She now takes part- time contracts working as a tour manager and points out she's much kinder to herself.
"After any life-threatening experience, you start looking at what's important and who's important in your life," she muses. "I don't take things so seriously. If I want to lie on the bed in the afternoon and read a book, I do it.
"I spend more time talking to friends, gardening, playing with my great-nephews or fishing with Cam."
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