Hoani locks onto lifesaving initiative

17:00, Jul 04 2014
HEARTsafe communities project
ADVOCATE: Invercargill woman Kelly Widdowson and former Stags player Hoani MacDonald both suffered heart attacks at a young age. They spoke out in support of the HEARTsafe communities project.

Two years ago Stag Hoani MacDonald got the fright of his life. This year he got another one.

It happened as he walked away from a potential fight while playing basketball.

Heart racing and adrenalin pumping, he felt an almighty "whack" in the chest.

He thought he had been punched.

It was actually his pacemaker kicking in.

The pacemaker was inserted after MacDonald suffered a life-threatening heart attack while playing rugby in 2012.


The "whack" was a wake-up call - a reminder he must keep a cool head and a steady heart.

"[My wife] does raise her eyebrows when I'm heading to a [basketball] game. She just tells me to know your limits," he said.

MacDonald knows his limits.

"I started arguing with someone on the court and felt my heart start racing. I walked away and felt a big whack.

I thought he'd hit me, but it was my ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) kicking in."

"I lost a bit of confidence after that, but I learned my lesson . . . I don't need to prove anything."

He is hoping others will learn the same lesson.

MacDonald has been named national patron for HEARTsafe, a project to increase education about how to treat a heart attack in New Zealand communities.

He spoke about his experiences at a meeting of community representatives considering the HEARTsafe initiative on Thursday.

MacDonald was 34 when he collapsed on the field during a Stags v Counties Manukau semifinal

game in Pukekohe in October 2012.

"Basically my heart started racing all of a sudden, but I kept playing. I guess I was being a bit of a macho guy, saying ‘why are you so tired, you shouldn't be tired'."

"Last thing I remember I was playing rugby. Next I woke up hooked up to all these cords and cables with doctors staring down at me."

He put his survival down to the fact there were paramedics on hand immediately after he collapsed.

"No-one knows when or where it's gonna happen."

"What kind of price can you put on someone's life? . . . That's why I wanted to get on board with this," he said.

Doctors remain mystified about what caused MacDonald's heart attack.

"I asked the doctors what I'm allowed to do and they said anything other than rugby." Soon after leaving hospital, he was back training and lifting weights and has since joined a basketball team.

Invercargill woman Kelly Widdowson echoed the call to support HEARTsafe.

Widdowson suffered 10 heart attacks after collapsing on the netball court 11 months ago, aged 26.

"I'm very blessed to be alive."


HEARTsafe aims to improve awareness and education about cardiac arrests.

Communities work to become HEARTsafe accredited by setting up a committee to earn "heartbeats".

Invercargill must earn 4000 heartbeats to become HEARTsafe, which is calculated by population base.

Heartbeats can be earned by:- People trying CPR - People training for first-aid certificates - Having AEDs in the community - Organising first aid demonstrations to raise awareness about heart attacks

The Southland Times