Nicky Winmar kicks goals for heart health

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As the AFL grand final draws near, champion St Kilda footballer Nicky Winmar has shared his experience of having a heart attack at the age of 46 and of losing his father, at 50, to a heart attack. Heart attack is the number one killer of indigenous Australians and Mr Winmar, on behalf of the Heart Foundation, is urging other indigenous Australians to have regular check-ups and to learn the warning signs.

Champion St Kilda footballer Nicky Winmar has called on indigenous people to learn the warning signs of a heart attack – the number one killer of indigenous Australians, and a shock he has suffered himself.

Mr. Winmar has shared his story in a bid to help close the mortality gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. He was only 46 when he told his partner he felt tightness and pain in the chest in September 2012.

“I thought it would go away,” he said. “My partner gave me a glass of something for indigestion and I lay down to rest.”

Mr. Winmar still wrote it off as indigestion the following day, but his partner convinced him to go to a doctor.

“The doctor looked at me and put me in a room with all these machines and said I was having a heart attack,” he said.

“It knocked me for six. I’d always trained hard and kept myself well with good food. It gave me a shake-up.

“The doctors had to operate. They put one stent in an artery to keep it open. Afterwards, I was so weak I couldn’t get out of bed. I had to learn to walk again.”

Now 52, Mr Winmar is painfully aware of how it could have ended.

“My former teammate Paul Couch was only young, too, when he had a heart attack at 51, but he died. My dad also had heart disease problems and was only 50 when he died – the night before the 1997 Grand Final. It does happen.”

On behalf of the National Heart Foundation, Mr Winmar is urging other indigenous people to be aware of symptoms and to get regular check-ups.

“Before it happened, I was having all these blackouts, like dizziness, and falling over,” he said. “If you ever get these symptoms, please go and see a doctor. Make time to do that. If I hadn’t gone to the doctor, I might not be here today.

“And if you smoke, stop. I was only a light smoker but it still did me harm and now I’ve given up.”

His advice is reinforced by the Heart Foundation, which aims to help reduce the mortality gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

ACT CEO of the Heart Foundation, Tony Stubbs, said almost one-fifth (19 percent) of the mortality gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people was due to cardiovascular disease. [1]

“Indigenous people died from this condition at 1.8 times [2] the rate of non-indigenous people in the years from 2012 to 2014,” he said. “The Heart Foundation is committed to reducing this gap.”

St Kilda Football Club CEO Matt Finnis said: “Nicky is one of St Kilda’s favourite sons, and his message about the importance of heart health is a really important one.

“We are incredibly thankful that Nicky was able to get the help he needed and has recovered fully.

“Nicky has previously spoken out against racial vilification and homophobia, and to be now promoting heart health in indigenous Australians proves again what kind of person he is.”

Warning signs of a heart attack

  • Discomfort or pain in the centre of your chest – or arms, shoulders, neck, jaw or back.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea.
  • Cold sweats.

· Dizziness and light-headedness.


  • STOP what you’re doing.
  • TALK to someone.
  • CALL Triple Zero.

Learn more about heart attack symptoms.

For interviews with Mr. Winmar or Mr. Stubbs, please contact:


Tina Wall, National Media Adviser, The Heart Foundation, 0427 591 638.

Dave O’Neill, Head of Media & Stakeholder Relations, St Kilda Football Club, 0409 167 298.


[1] AIHW, Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2011

[2] AIHW National Mortality Database