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Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem
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Daniel's cardiac arrest helped him discover another problem

Dan was six minutes into his treadmill session when his heart stopped beating.

After a heart-stopping treadmill session, Daniel’s eyes were opened to the fragility our hearts, and life. 

Daniel is an HR specialist who lives in Onkaparinga Hills, south of Adelaide, with his wife and three kids. A lifelong footy fanatic – as a player and coach – he’s also an active gym-goer and likes to keep fit and healthy.

Daniel’s heart story 

I’m confused and in the back of an ambulance. I have no idea how I got here. Last I remember, I’d started my usual workout at my gym – something I’ve loved doing for quite some time – and was feeling terrific. It was only later I learned that six minutes into a treadmill session, my heart suddenly stopped beating.  

I was a fit and healthy 35-year-old with no history of heart problems, yet here I was, the unfortunate victim (but fortunate survivor) of a cardiac arrest. Lucky for me that not only was one of the gym’s trainers quickly on hand to render first aid when I hit the deck, but working out beside me were two surf life-savers and a nurse. Together they commenced CPR and hooked me up to the automated external defibrillator (AED) that the gym kept on premises for just this eventuality. My angels! 

Then I was in hospital. Despite a barrage of tests, the medical team couldn’t find anything with my heart’s electrical function that might’ve caused it to stop beating. It certainly wasn’t because of strenuous exercise – I was told that it could just as well have happened while I was asleep or, worse still, while I was driving. I’d had no symptoms and no family history of heart rhythm problems. It was a mystery.  

To be on the safe side, they fitted me with an ICD – an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator – a little insurance against future heart rhythm problems.  

But that wasn’t the end of my story. To my surprise, while investigating the problem doctors found another issue with my heart: my right coronary artery was half blocked. I was diagnosed with coronary heart disease and told that I was at increased risk of a heart attack.  

The cardiac arrest and the blockage in my artery weren’t related, I learned. A cardiac arrest is an ‘electrical’ problem, while blockages in blood vessels are more to do with the heart’s ‘plumbing’. I therefore couldn’t help feeling at least a little lucky that we discovered the blockage when we did, before it caused a heart attack. They quickly fixed the blocked artery with a stent. That experience made me realise the importance of a thoughtful diet and keeping my cholesterol levels in check.
To say that not finding the cause of my cardiac arrest is frustrating is an understatement, but I learned to deal with my concerns thanks to some terrific support networks.
The cardiac rehabilitation program at Noarlunga hospital was a big help, and so too was the Heart Foundation and the various social networks out there. It turns out there are lots of people who’ve been in my shoes. The advice I found on how to manage my mental health has been invaluable. 

Three months after my cardiac arrest I was back in the gym, full of confidence and determined that my heart event wouldn’t affect my love of exercise. That was four years ago. We probably never will find the cause but I figure that keeping myself healthy and happy is what’s most important to me, and to my wife and three kids. 

That said, my experience did awaken in me an urge to help others become more aware of how fragile one’s heart is. To begin with, knowing that the gym’s AED saved my life – along with trainer Mel and the other three good Samaritans, of course – I’m now an avid advocate for increased funding for AEDs. I’m currently working on a Bill with the South Australian Government that hopefully will see these life-saving machines rolled out more widely.

Secondly, the incidental tests that revealed my blockage showed me how easy it would be to overlook a major heart health issue, simply by presuming everything was okay. Fit blokes in their thirties don’t have heart problems, right? I learned that just because you have no conventional risk factors and no symptoms, doesn’t mean your heart is in perfect health.

In short, my advice is to get a heart health check. Don’t put it off. 

It’s a message I’ve been promoting through my gym, too. Only recently we held a fundraiser and I’m proud to say that $800 will soon be on its way to the Heart Foundation, so they can keep up their work in the fight against Australia’s biggest killer, coronary heart disease. 

Daniel’s one piece of advice  

See your doctor and find out about your heart-disease risk factors. Do it for the ones you love.  


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