Real life

Chris' Story

“On my 60th birthday I was knocked off my surfboard and had a near drowning experiencing which lead to a massive heart attack. I was fit and healthy, I surfed, swam and ran, I had a good diet and worked as a full time youth worker running a busy youth centre. I was never sick... I was bloody bulletproof! How could this happen to me? Little did I know that the stress of my work, coupled with genetic heart issues meant my surf accident was the perfect trigger for my heart attack...

That day I’d surfed for 2-3 hours with some mates and it was fantastic! All my skills were coming back to me. And then I took a wave down the beach, away from everyone else, and I wiped out. I basically went under the water and the board came down and knocked me out.

I was under the water for a while and when I did come to, I remember being on the sand at the bottom of the ocean looking up and this train smash pain came from somewhere. I knew the board had already done damage to my arm but this was a new pain and it compressed my chest and took all my breath away. And I knew I was in real trouble... I’d had a heart attack. The pain of it was just unbelievable. It’s not a pain I’ve ever felt.

I was under the water and I knew I was a long way away from everyone.

But I managed to get washed onto the beach after a lot of effort. I knew I then had to stagger about 150 metres down the beach... so I staggered fell over, staggered, fell over. I finally got to the surf lifesaving club. Everything from there is a blur, but I do remember going into survival mode and thinking ‘well I’ve got to survive this!’

The next day when I was in hospital I had my cardiac arrest. I was hooked up to a monitor and was constantly looking at it and had become very aware of my life. When the very thing that indicates that you’re still alive goes flat, and you get that beeeeep, it’s beyond frightening! I remember the warm rush instead of the cold rush... and I just kept thinking, why have I suddenly become warm all the way through my body? And in the chaos that was occurring, I suddenly went deaf. I couldn’t hear and everything was quiet. And the nurse that was looking after me jumped on the bed and gave me a right punch to the chest that was just as good as a Mike Tyson punch. And I was back but I knew in a nanosecond, that this particular thing had changed me. I was completely different.

The immediate feeling that came to me afterwards was that I wasn’t going to take things for granted anymore. And it was so strong. I’d spent many years working really hard as a youth worker and was quite passionate about it. But the really important things in my life were right in front of me. Things you take for granted, like a walk on the beach with your partner or spending time with your kids where you’re actually talking and listening to them rather than just superficially chatting...

From that moment onwards I decided I was really going to focus on my own immediate life, rather than worry about the future and about what’s going to happen. I’ve started to realise that the people around me aren’t always going to be here too. If you’re going to celebrate anything, you’ve got to celebrate life!

Since I had my heart attack, I’ve quit my stressful job and I now take photos of the ocean and surf for a living. I’m more passive these days. It sounds clichéd but I’m really grateful for the support of my family and friends more than ever. I see life through a different lens these days.

If death comes to me next time, I’ll be more prepared. It’s almost an acceptance. But it is so bloody good to be here! A heart attack really does something to you that is beyond just your heart stopping,” - Chris.

You can help families struggling with heart disease by supporting vital discoveries at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

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