When we sit down to talk in a sunny Chifley cafe, it’s almost 10 years since Louise Maher discovered the ticking time bomb in her chest.
The much-loved former ABC Canberra presenter had noticed one or two odd things – breathlessness and an unusual degree of indigestion. She put them down to lack of fitness after a stress test, cardiogram and checks for an ulcer all revealed nothing untoward.
Fast-forward to March 2014, when she and her partner, Ian, were on a walking trip in Tasmania.
“I was really struggling at Wine Glass Bay and just thinking I was terribly unfit,” she says. “We had a trip planned for later that year to Central Australia and my partner said we just had to get this sorted out.
“I went back to my GP, who suggested my cardiologist could do an angiogram, a much more invasive test. I was expecting him to find nothing so we could just rule any problems out.”
Instead, the standard surgical test turned into something far more complex as her cardiologist discovered several significant blockages. He inserted three stents during the procedure and Louise was told when she woke up that she’d already suffered one heart attack without knowing it.
“I could have had another heart attack at any time,” she says.
The stents worked and she’s been fine ever since. Ten years later, she’s walking in the first Canberra Coastrek walk for women’s health as an ambassador for the Heart Foundation and a member of the ACT Advisory Board.
The Coastrek event was founded by Di Westaway and Wild Women On Top, one of Australia’s largest and longest-running women’s health movements. Their mission is to connect, coach and champion women in the outdoors through community hiking adventures around Australia, and after successful events around the nation, the event comes to Canberra on 15 March.
Teams of four participants can choose either a 20 km walk around West Basin and Kings Avenue Bridge or a full 30 km circuit via the Jerrabomberra Wetlands, aiming to raise $600,000 for heart health. Each team pledges to raise $2000 for the Heart Foundation.
Louise says she wants women to reflect on how different the symptoms of heart disease can be for them, how easily they’re overlooked and how important it is to persist with investigations.
“You need to keep going back, keep going back,” she says.
“I was lucky I had a really good GP, a really good cardiologist and a really good nagging partner, but so often women don’t get checked out.
”They’re very busy, they’re looking after the health and wellbeing of everyone else and they think – as I did – well, I’m just a bit unfit, I’m getting older.”
Louise has just begun personal training sessions where she’s lifting weights, aiming to build body strength and muscle mass.
“I’m 62 years old, so I need to make sure that my shins are strong, my legs and core are strong,” she says.
Louise is planning PT sessions, swimming and long training walks with her team of former media mates.
“This is about raising money for a topic very dear to my heart and a good way to spend time with dear friends,” she says.
”We’ve called ourselves the Walkie Talkies because when we walk we talk, and that makes the walk go by so much more quickly and enjoyably.
“I am really someone who would much rather sit in a corner and read a book, but I know I have to get active as I get older.”
Region Media will also be participating in Coastrek and following the training program. You can find out more about Coastrek and the Canberra event at their website and register a team to take part.