Paul Rourke with his KISS THISS bandmates

Paul's sudden cardiac arrest story

Surviving a sudden cardiac arrest on a cruise ship

When drummer Paul Rourke took to the stage in January 2023, he thought the gig would be like any other. But the KISS THISS tribute band musician came within an inch of losing his life after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest mid-performance.

He credits his survival to being on a cruise ship at the time, which had a doctor on board, a defibrillator, and other equipment that kept him alive till they reached land.

"I'm incredibly lucky to still be here ā€“ there's not a day in my life when I don't think about it. Just one in 10 people who have a sudden cardiac arrest outside of hospital survive. I'm one of them, and I've also come through relatively unscathed," says Paul, a 49-year-old father of two.

Paul's incredible story began when he joined his fellow band members on a cruise from Brisbane to Sydney.

Paul recalls: "Everything was going swimmingly, and we started the first performance. We got through the first song, and then I started to feel faint during the second. And the next thing I knew, I was down on the stage with everyone around me, trying to figure out what had happened.

Paul in the hospital after his sudden cardiac arrest

"I was taken down to the medical area where I suffered an arrest. The next thing I remember is the doctor doing chest compressions on me, which was very confronting. They managed to keep me alive by shocking my heart every time it dropped, until we pulled into Sydney early in the morning."

Paul was taken to St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney and placed in the Coronary Care Unit.

A week later, Paul suffered a second cardiac arrest in hospital. It was then that doctors, including the Institute's Professor Jason Kovacic, decided that Paul would need a defibrillator and a pacemaker to keep him safe and well.

Six months on, and Paul has recovered physically, but the emotional scars have taken longer to heal for himself, his family, and his bandmates.

Paul says: "It was such a bolt out of the blue. I had no family history of heart disease, and whilst I am in a band, I don't live a rock 'n' roll lifestyle. I don't drink or smoke and follow a pretty healthy lifestyle, so I never expected this to happen to me."
Paul behind his drumkit in KISS costume

Paul says coming close to death was an eye-opener. "It made me realise that I have a whole load of friends who were really affected by what happened to me. That includes my bandmates who saw me on the ground, and my absolute rock star wife, who was there as I was rushed into Emergency and spent the whole week with me.

"I've been told I should live a long and relatively normal life. For me it's making sure I am present every minute of the day and spending time with my family."

Paul was given all clear to start drumming again by Professor Kovacic but getting back on stage took a lot of mental courage.

He says: "The last time I was on stage, I nearly died, which really played on my mind. So, getting back to drumming with my bandmates was really emotional ā€“ it was the biggest hurdle I had to overcome. But it turned out to be a really good night, and it was so good to be back on stage again.

"I've learned to trust the machine inside me will do its job. It took a while to get there as I sure came close to not being here. But Iā€™m here, with my family, my friends, and back to doing what I love.ā€
Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years