AFL fan who nearly died at Grand Final urges Aussies to have a go and save a life

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The survivor of a cardiac arrest at last year’s AFL Grand Final is urging more Australians to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), after new National Heart Foundation research showed one in five people wouldn’t know how to recognise a cardiac arrest, and 40 per cent would not feel confident to administer CPR.

A survey of more than 1000 adults across Australia found that the main reasons they would not assist were a lack of knowledge, lack of confidence, or fear of doing harm to the person. The survey findings were released today to mark the launch of the Heart Foundation’s largest fundraiser, the Big Heart Appeal, for which volunteers will be doorknocking all around Australia.

Heart Foundation VIC Board Member and cardiologist, Dr Nick Cox, treated Bulldogs fan Rob McCarthy, who had a cardiac arrest just before his beloved Bulldogs won last year’s AFL Grand Final.  The two men were reunited at the MCG, along with the then off-duty paramedic who gave 65-year-old Mr McCarthy CPR when he collapsed.

While there are no formal national figures on cardiac arrest, which is the theme for this year’s Big Heart Appeal, estimates suggest there are around 11,000-15,000 cases of cardiac arrest among men and women in Australia each year, and around 10,000 people die from it. The issue was highlighted this week with the tragic death of Ironman Dean Mercer, who is thought to have suffered a heart event.

A person having a cardiac arrest is more than twice as likely to survive if someone intervenes in the crucial first minutes, but lives are still being lost through lack of awareness and simple training.  Dr Cox said cardiac arrest symptoms include sudden collapse, sudden loss of consciousness and no, or abnormal, breathing.

“We know that every minute without CPR, your chances of surviving a cardiac arrest go down by ten percent, and after ten minutes without it there is little chance of survival at all,” he said. “So, if you see someone in this situation, call an ambulance immediately. Call operators can talk you through how to administer CPR in those vital first minutes before other help arrives.”

As this year's grand final approaches, Dr Cox warned families that half of all men aged over 40 have heart disease. “At your family get-together, encourage Dad to go to his GP for a heart health check,” he said.

A cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack.  You can have a cardiac arrest without having a heart attack, but a heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest. 

A heart attack is a sudden blockage of a coronary artery that cuts off the blood supply to part of the heart muscle. The heart still sends blood around the body, and the person remains conscious and is still breathing. A cardiac arrest is a problem with the electrical system of the heart; the heart suddenly stops beating, resulting in no blood flow to the brain and other vital organs.  Both are emergencies.

Rob McCarthy will be forever grateful for the help he received when he had a cardiac arrest at the 2016 Grand Final. An off-duty paramedic immediately began performing CPR, followed by on-duty paramedics who used a defibrillator (AED) to shock Mr McCarthy’s heart back into normal rhythm.

“I was lucky that someone knew how to do CPR and helped keep my heart pumping until the ambulance arrived. Without them, I probably wouldn’t be here today,” Mr McCarthy said.

Thanks to Heart Foundation funding, researcher Dr Janet Bray from Melbourne’s Monash University has been looking at ways to improve cardiac arrest survival rates through community education. “We reviewed over 175 triple zero call recordings in cases of cardiac arrest where the patient did not receive CPR from a bystander. We wanted to try and understand the reasons why people did not intervene,” she said.

“The caller got as far as receiving CPR instructions from the call operator in only 19 percent of cases. The main reasons for this low figure were time lost due to communication issues, including calling from a landline that was not near the patient, a lack of knowledge about signs of cardiac arrest and the benefit of intervening, and personal factors such as frailty and emotional state.”

Throughout September, more than 15,000 big-hearted volunteers will be knocking on doors across the country to help raise funds for the Heart Foundation’s Big Heart Appeal, which aims to raise more than $1 million. But our volunteers can’t knock on every door, so please help them and knock on ours to make a donation at 



  • National Heart Foundation of Australia analysis 2016, based on ABS Cause of Death data 2014, released 2016
  • ABS Causes of Death 2015

For interviews in Victoria please contact:

Liselotte Geary, Senior National Media Adviser, Heart Foundation, 0411 310 997

Fleur Jacobs, Media and Communications Advisor, Heart Foundation VIC, 0423 827 697  

For outside Victoria please contact:

Tina Wall, Senior National Media Adviser, Heart Foundation, 0427 591 638

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