Paramedics have heart attacks too

Wayne Giles is professionally trained to recognise a heart attack, yet when he had one himself, he initially thought it was a pulled muscle.

Paramedic Wayne Giles

Paramedic Wayne Giles thought his chest pain was simply a pulled muscle. Photo/Southland Express

St John Paramedic Wayne Giles has seen a lot of heart attacks. Sadly, the first one he witnessed caused his father’s death when Wayne was just 19.

He is now trained to recognise and treat cardiac events, but when the 51-year-old experienced chest pain himself in June 2016, he didn’t think it was heart-related. And that, he says, is the point.

“You know the Heart Foundation ad on TV where people are supposedly having a heart attack but it’s actually the guy in the background quietly having one – that sums up my heart attack, it wasn’t what I expected,” says Wayne.

It wasn’t until he received confirmation via blood tests at the hospital, that the shattering news really hit him hard.

“I was questioning the doctor about my results. She put her papers down, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Look you have had a heart attack, alright’.”

In denial

His denial of the potentially life-threatening situation was partly because he works hard to keep fit by mountain biking and eats healthily due to his family history, and partly because of his symptoms.

“I didn’t believe it was a heart attack, there was no sweating, no shortness of breath, no crushing sensation, no feeling of someone sitting on my chest, and initially I didn’t have any pain down my arm.”

When Wayne first noticed a “deep ache like a line across the chest” he put it down to a pulled muscle. Pain relief did not alleviate the pain.

“I became very, very restless then the pain went into my jaw and my arms. That’s when I really knew it was not good.”

His wife Joy drove him to Invercargill’s Kew Hospital where blood tests confirmed the heart attack. A few days later he was transferred to Dunedin Hospital where an angiogram showed a narrowing of the left coronary artery, requiring double bypass surgery.

Emotional roller coaster

Seven months on, Wayne is back at work and back on his bike. But he says the road to recovery has been both a mental and physical challenge for himself, Joy and their two adult sons.

“I think Joy went through the same emotional roller coaster as me without the actual physical surgery. It scared the living daylights out of her.”

He now voluntarily teaches CPR and how to use a portable defibrillator (AED) at the Cardiac Rehab Group he once attended as a patient.

“I say to them, ‘I am here to teach you about this as I was once sitting where you are now, I had a heart attack’. It seems to make a difference having a shared experience.”

Paramedics are always here

While he admits his reluctance to call 111 for his own heart attack is not such a great example, he is sharing his story to highlight the importance of doing so. He wants to remind Kiwis that paramedics can start treatment on the way to hospital which means a higher chance of survival and less damage to the heart.

“We refer to the three steps to life as call 111, CPR and defibrillation. It gives people the best possible chance.

“Anybody, anywhere, anytime if you are having any chest pain at all, or discomfort, or you just feel things aren’t quite right call an ambulance.

“There are paramedics on duty 24 hours a day, we will come any time. We often get people saying they didn’t want to bother anyone late at night. But we are always here.”

Would you know a heart attack warning sign?