You can run

 In Patient Stories

The 29th of June 2015 started out like most others, an early morning shift at work, home for some lunch, followed by a 2.5 kilometre swim at the local pool, as part of my ironman training.  It was then off for a walk with my partner, Amanda, and our two precious golden retrievers, Benson and Mr Wilson.

For a couple of weeks I had experienced some arm pain after swimming and checked this out with my GP, who thought it may have been a repetitive strain injury, which is not uncommon in my line of employment.  I was again experiencing this arm pain after the afternoon swim, but as I walked around the neighbourhood, it steadily worsened, until the point that I had to hand Mr Wilson’s lead over to Amanda.  Amanda commented that she thought that I was having a heart attack and I assured her I wasn’t.  She was fretting and suggested we head to the local chemist, as neither of us had our mobile phones with us, it was getting cold and dark and I just wanted to get home.

When we got home, Amanda wanted me to call an ambulance, however, I didn’t think the situation warranted this, so I asked her to call my GP, which she did, knowing full well the practice would tell her to call an ambulance, which I refused, and instead asked her to drive me to the local hospital, which she agreed to do, even with the steam coming out of her ears!

We arrived at the emergency department at Casey Hospital in Berwick, where Amanda ran in and informed the nurses on duty that she thought I was having a heart attack, they immediately whisked me into a room and a nurse took a full history.  I was then rushed to a treatment room and placed on an ECG machine, doctors and nurses came from everywhere and a blood test confirmed that I was indeed suffering a massive heart attack and the cardiac catheterisation laboratory at MonashHeart Clayton wanted me there now!

I was transported by MICA ambulance and the paramedics on board worked hard to keep me calm; I was even cracking some really bad Dad jokes (I’m blaming the morphine).  On arrival at the cardiac cath lab, the waiting team of medico’s informed me the artery was indeed 100% blocked and an emergency angioplasty would be required, which they swiftly carried out.  After having two large stents inserted end to end, I was then wheeled up to the cardiac care unit at Monash, which would be my home for the next five days.

My family have an extensive history of heart issues; my 44-year old father, an interstate truck driver, was found dead beside his truck when I was 9 years old, despite passing his company medical only three days earlier.  My mother had triple bypass surgery at the age of 63, and then died nine years later from a heart attack.  One of my brothers and both my sisters also experienced heart issues in their middle age.  My maternal grandfather also died from a heart attack.

I was determined that I wasn’t going to go down without a fight, so I took up long distance running at the age of 41 and have competed in numerous road and trail running events since then, including full marathons.  I then decided to branch out into triathlons and was training for my first ironman in 2016.  I had also changed my diet and lost 12 kilograms.

After a few setbacks, including a fall off a retaining wall and my first ever bout of bronchitis, I have now returned to my normal duties and triathlon training.  I also regularly partake in the Berwick Springs Parkrun and on the morning of the 19thDecember, 2015, I noticed a fellow runner was not looking well.  He was sweating, staggering around and I and a fellow runner rushed over to assist, whereupon he went into cardiac arrest.   An awesome team of runners helped perform CPR under the guidance of Ambulance Victoria, until the paramedics arrived and took him to MonashHeart.  I am happy to say that he is well on his way to recovery, even though it was very touch and go for a while, and he almost didn’t make it, but that’s his story to tell.

So what have I learnt from this experience:-

  • MonashHeart rock!
  • It feels good to pay things forward
  • Yes, you can have a heart attack, even if you are fit
  • A heart attack is a life-changing event, but it doesn’t mean you have to stop living after it
  • Don’t ever hesitate to call an ambulance, better to be thought an idiot than die and confirm it
  • Listen to your partner – she usually knows best!


David Cunningham

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