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Warren's Story with Atrial Fibrillation

Runner Warren's insistence for a heart health checkup might have saved his life

Warren Williams was as fit as you can be at the age of 49. The Sydney father of two could run 5km in 17 minutes - a feat that set him miles apart from his peers. But, during a routine visit to his GP, Warren decided to ask for a full check-up. And the results stunned both Warren and his doctor.

Warren running

“My GP said why would I even bother getting tested because I was so healthy. But when he checked my heart with his stethoscope, he said you are off to hospital straight away. My heartbeat was all over the place.”

Warren attended Mater Hospital where they shocked his heart back into a normal rhythm and he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib) – a condition that one in three Australians are at risk of developing later in life. It’s a disorder of the heart's electrical activity, which causes the heart to beat irregularly and often fast and can be life-threatening.

Warren recalls: “They tried various medications which caused side effects and eventually after my heart kept doing crazy stuff they gave me a pacemaker.

“I was lucky as I was not experiencing any other symptoms associated with the disease and still don’t but my condition is considered chronic. It meant that I was able to get back into competitive running and life continued pretty normally for the next 10 years.”

Warren in hospital recovering from his fall

However, last year aged 60 he collapsed whilst out running with his squad in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.

Warren says: "I felt really good and healthy that day and decided to smash it up a hill and push myself to get ahead of the rest. When I stopped, the others saw me fall over. It was incredibly confronting for them as they saw me lying there on the ground with a bloodied face.

"I had no warning signs, no pain, I just went down. At the time I thought I had just fainted and I told them I was fine but my pacemaker later revealed my heart rate had shot up to 300bpm."

In the hospital, they discovered Warren’s main dissenting artery had ruptured and he now has a defibrillator implanted in his chest to prevent another episode from occurring.

He says: "People don’t normally survive what happened to me but at the time I was fearless of the situation and the surgeries I had to go through. I think I was in shutdown mode.

“I was told I would never run again. But there’s no way they would stop me from doing that. It’s what I love doing and I am out there every day.

“It is strange when I run past that spot where I collapsed but you can’t think about that too much. You just get on with your life as best you can.

“I may not push myself as much up hills anymore but as my wife said if I stopped running I’d be out the window.”

Warren Williams with his family

Warren is now a strong advocate for all Australians to undergo yearly heart health checks which are provided by Medicare for anyone over the age of 45.

He is also a supporter of Hearts4Heart, a cardiac patient advocacy organisation that the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute is working with to investigate community attitudes to genetic testing for AFib.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land, the Gadigal of the Eora nation, on which we meet, work, and discover.
Our Western Australian laboratories pay their respect to the Whadjuk Noongar who remain as the spiritual and cultural custodians of their land.

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