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Heart attack message comes just in time

It was Sunday night in Wellington and the Heart Foundation’s new heart attack awareness campaign had just gone live on national television. Watching at home was father-of-two Ian Lancaster, who had no idea the message he was hearing would save his life.

When Ian woke up the next morning, he cycled his usual 10km route to work at Maritime New Zealand in central Wellington.

Ian, 51, was feeling fit, healthy and ready for another week of work.

But as he showered and changed, Ian started feeling pain in his arm, tightness in his chest, breathlessness, and a sense of fatigue.

He considered brushing it off – or ‘manning up’ – but then remembered the Heart Foundation’s message he’d seen on TV the night before.

“‘If you’re experiencing symptoms of chest discomfort, nausea, sweating or shortness of breath, then ring 111 immediately.’ This message was flashing in my mind as I ticked off the symptoms. I realised it was time to do something.”

Ian made the critical decision to tell two of his colleagues how he was feeling. They called for an ambulance and that decision saved his life, because as the ambulance pulled out of Maritime New Zealand, Ian suddenly went into cardiac arrest – his heart stopped beating.

“I remember pulling away listening to the sirens and that was it. I felt as if I’d just gone to sleep. Then I woke up with the ambulance officer pushing his hands into my chest doing heart compressions.”

Chances are that if Ian hadn’t recognised his symptoms and acted quickly, he would have had his cardiac arrest at work, without a medic nearby.

“The worst-case scenario is it could have happened while I was in the shower and it would have been too late by the time I was found. Even if I was at my desk and I’d keeled over, who knows what would have happened?”

Ian was rushed to Wellington Hospital and assessed by leading cardiologist Dr Andrew Aitken, who agrees that Ian’s heart attack awareness saved his life.

“Ian sought advice really quickly and got to the emergency department within an hour of the onset of the pain, which makes a world of difference. The length of time it took was significantly reduced because of what he saw on TV the night before.”

Dr Aitken had Ian rushed in for surgery to have a stent inserted into his heart.

Standing in the waiting room fearing the worst were Ian’s wife Nicola and daughters, Emily, 14, and Juliette, 11.

“For them it was quite a major shock,” Ian says. “I think it affected them more than me on the day. It was when I got out of theatre and saw Nicola and the girls in tears that the seriousness hit me. The impact and scare was bigger for them as they had more time to worry about the ‘what ifs?’”

Thankfully, Ian came through the ordeal and is now recovering at home. He has to take a few weeks off work but should be back up and running shortly – all because he was made aware of the importance of acting quickly when experiencing heart attack symptoms.

“If I’d ignored them the likely scenario is I wouldn’t be here now. All I’ve got to show for it is a plaster on my wrist, a bruise on my chest and a shirt with a couple of buttons missing from where the medic ripped it open to perform compressions.

"These are small things compared to what could have happened.”

Ian's story appeared on ONE News on Saturday July 18, 2015 – catch it here.