Heart disease ripped away Natalie Barr’s beloved father on a day of horror – a very personal reason for her supporting demands for lifesaving Medicare-funded heart health checks.
“I was at home after reading the late news when I got a call that my dad died,” the Sunrise newsreader says through tears.
“It was the worst day of my life.”
Barr, who was six months pregnant at the time, began to unravel the moment she heard. “My father Jim had died of left ventricular failure, according to the report,” she tells The Advertiser.
“You never forget those things. He’s been gone 18 years and I still get upset.”
Heart disease affects many people. It’s a chronic condition – and that means it’s long term.
According to the Heart Foundation, an Australian has a heart attack every 10 minutes; 51 die of heart disease each day.
Barr, who turned 50 last year, knew her dad was a heavy smoker, but his passing still came as a shock. “We tried to make him stop. I tried to make him stop. It was my one regret.”
“I even bought cigarette patches and left it on the kitchen counter for him. The addiction was just too strong.”
The pain of his loss is still apparent when the Seven Network veteran talks about what a role model he was for her.
“He came with me to the ultrasound of my first son, Lachlan, and had never been to one before,” she said.
“He took the photo with him and showed his mates at the golf club, telling them ‘that’s my grandson’.
My dad could quote the length of my baby and the size of his head, he was so damn excited.”
Barr’s father returned home after a game of golf, complained of heartburn, and died that day.
“It was the last thing I ever expected,” she said.
“When I heard the news, I stayed up all night with my husband, Andrew, and booked a ticket to Perth.
“We then drove to my hometown of Bunbury, planned a funeral and buried my dad.”
Barr says knowing her father died from a heart attack had made her aware of the importance of looking after her own health.
“I’ve had all the checks,” she said. “We need to keep healthy at all ages to prevent heart disease.”
Getting behind Heart Foundation call for Medicare-funded heart health checks – one of seven key initiatives to stop the deaths – Barr is urging all Australians to do the same, and to do a lot more to protect their ticker.
“Anything that raises awareness for heart health is wonderful,” she said.
“It will give people an excuse to see their doctor. We should have been doing it for years – we need to get people to talk about their hearts.”
“Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in Australia and we just don’t hear enough about it.”
Professor Garry Jennings, Cardiologist and Chief Medical Adviser at the Heart Foundation, says knowing all your risk factors is the key to protecting yourself from heart disease.
“Most Australians would probably know that if they smoke, they are at higher risk,” he said.
“However, others are not so obvious, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The best way to find out about your risks is by having a heart health check with your GP.”
“The Heart Foundation strongly recommends having a heart health check if you’re over 45 years old, or over 35 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
It will take between 15 and 30 minutes, which is a small commitment when you consider it may save your life.”
Photograph by John Appleyard