Body

The health mission close to the hearts of Renee Wright, Melissa Stokes and Miriama Kamo

Heart problems claimed the lives of men who were dear to this trio.

By Amy Prebble
Miriama Kamo, Renee Wright and Melissa Stokes have a lot in common – the TVNZ presenters all balance demanding jobs with looking after children, they're all fit, active and give back to the community, and they've all been affected by heart disease.
Despite medical advances, heart disease is still the single biggest killer of Kiwis, a fact Miriama (45) knows all too well. The popular Sunday and Marae host lost both her grandfathers to heart attacks.
"I never knew one of my grandfathers, except through stories, but my papa was very precious to me," she says.
"He was such a beautiful and special man. I have so many memories of growing up with him. The fact he died of a heart attack was a big deal in my immediate whanau because my brother Ward was there when it happened and he had to try and revive him – and he was only in his teens."
Because Miriama's husband Mike Dreaver also has heart disease in his family, and her mum Mary (79) has angina, which means she battles daily with heart medication, the TV host didn't need to be asked twice to help promote the Heart Foundation's annual appeal.
Renee (38) was also happy to lend a hand. Heart problems claimed her beloved poppa Peter Wright.
"He loved his fried bread and fatty foods, so that was a battle for him all his life, then it took its toll on his heart and he died of heart complications in his early 70s."
Her grandmother Merle Winter (91) also has angina.
Renee lost her beloved poppa Peter to heart problems.
Melissa's father Roger (69) is one of the lucky ones – he recognised the signs of a heart attack and went straight to hospital.
"Dad actually likes getting medical tests and stuff done," says Melissa (40).
"He rang one day and said, 'This is great, I'm getting on the treadmill thing, they're really testing me out.' Then he rang back and said that he'd had a heart attack."
Roger spent a tense three days waiting for an operation to have a stent put in.
"He was quite worried about his own mortality, as you would be," says Melissa.
"But I think he was actually really lucky he had it checked out. That attack probably would have just done damage, but maybe the next one… " she trails off. "Because he got the stent, obviously it's given him a longer life, so that's awesome."
She admits that the incident made her take stock. "I don't eat as much red meat any more, not only because of that, but just to look after my health – and I'm a mad walker. I'm always walking."
"As I've gotten older, I'm aware that I want to be around for my children and I need to take care of myself."
She's grateful that her mother Marian got her off to a good start on the diet front.
"She used to pretend that dried apricots were wine gums and things like that."
And the weather presenter is not above doing something similar herself.
"The kids love edamame beans. They call them 'mummy beans'. I've heard they're really good for your heart and they're fun. The kids love popping them out."
She also ensures Leo (7), Gigi (5) and Arabella (2) see her choosing healthy food.
"Don't get me wrong – left to my own devices, I'd have the diet of a truck driver, but I want to set a good example for the kids."
Melissa says ''It's good for my kids to see me going to work and it's good for them to see me exercise''.
Miriama also pays attention to her diet.
"My weight fluctuates a lot, by two sizes at least twice a year. It's just up and down. I'm not particularly worried about it except when I'm at the bigger end of the scale, which I'm approaching at the moment. I know that for women, the fat often accumulates around the gut and that can be a problem for your heart."
All three women are grateful for their flexible working schedules, which make it easier to ensure that being active is just a normal part of their children's lives.
"My husband and I ride Te Rerehua (7) to school on our electric bikes, and she sees us go to the gym. My family was really athletic when we were kids and then I sort of got a bit lazy, so for me it's a bit of a struggle, but I really want my daughter to see me caring about my health and our future."
Miriama lost both her grandfathers to heart attacks.
Renee's a huge fan of Pilates, but her goal for this year is to do more cardio – and she often gets her children involved.
"All the kids love to dance, ever since they've been tiny. We put music on, crank up the volume and have discos in the lounge. Mummy builds up quite a sweat because there's often a lot of, 'Pick me up and swing me around!'"
Melissa walks her children, Hugo (7) and Freddie (5), to school every day, and is delighted that the boys love to spend time outdoors.
"We recently moved house and we've got a big backyard – they like to dig holes in the ground and see what they can find," she says, laughing.
"We spend heaps of time at the beach and we used to go on big family bike rides. I think we'll get that going again now that Freddie's properly on a bike."
Like Miriama and Renee, Melissa is trying to lead by example so her sons will live healthy, active lives.
"We talk about it a lot. They're like, 'Are you going to exercise?' And I say, 'Yes, I am!' It's good for them to see me going to work and it's good for them to see me exercise. They definitely know that's my thing."

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