Second chance inspires action
Published: 2 September 2016
John Clarke is using his experience to help more people understand heart disease and heart health, get CPR training and know where defibrillators are located in their community.
An incredible chain of events saved John Clarke’s life after he suffered cardiac arrest, while taking part in a Mid-Winter Ocean Swim at Paihia.
John was 100m from shore when his heart stopped beating and his chances of survival were grim. A former paramedic, he is now passionate about supporting those that helped him get through it, including the quadruple bypass surgery.
“Looking back at that fateful day in June, a short 500m swim off the beach and back, seemed pretty straightforward,” he said.
“What could go wrong? What happened next is blank for me and I’ve had to rely on the recollections of others. I’d swum out and was on my way back into shore when my wife overtook me, as I was floating on my back. She asked if I was alright. I replied: "I'm tired". A few moments later I wasn't just tired, I had stopped breathing and was face down in the sea.”
Three other women who were nearby saw something was wrong and swam up to him. They held him up and called for a nearby boat to come and help. Fortunately for John, on board the boat was an off-duty fire fighter.
“The boat was quite large and it took an almighty effort to pull me up. Once on board, they immediately swung into action performing CPR while speeding into shore.
“And, if all of that wasn’t fortuitous enough the next bit is almost unbelievable.”
An off-duty advanced paramedic happened to be sitting in the cafe across the road from where the Ocean Swim was taking place.
“It was pure chance that he and his wife had stopped off for a coffee, before returning home to Whangarei. He saw a commotion on the beach and, thinking his services might be required, raced across. On the way, he picked up his defibrillator from his car and headed for the casualty which was me.”
As an ex-paramedic, John has used a defibrillator on many occasions and is aware that time is critical.
“The paramedic was at my side within 2 1/2 minutes of my breathing having stopped. The CPR that I had received on the boat kept oxygen going to my vital organs. I was in ventricular fibrillation which is a shockable rhythm. One shock from the defibrillator and my heart was beating once again - weak but beating.”
John was airlifted to Whangarei Hospital where he was placed in intensive care in a medically induced coma for three days.
“When I was brought round, the doctors were amazed that I had survived with so little damage to my organs.”
He was transferred to Auckland Hospital where he underwent open heart surgery and a quadruple bypass operation. Three weeks later, he was back home recovering and contemplating entering the 2016 Auckland Marathon.
Whilst at Auckland Hospital, John asked the consultant surgeon if he would be able to run a marathon.
“He said: ‘Not this week, but next year - I don't see a problem’. So, that was that - my target and recovery had been planned.”
Now signed up for the Auckland Marathon this year, John can’t think of a better cause to run for than the Heart Foundation.
“My cardiac arrest was caused by coronary artery disease. I was 52 at the time and was fit and healthy. I had no obvious signs of any heart problems. My blood pressure had always been good and I had low cholesterol. The chances of surviving what happened to me are less than 1% so I consider myself to be very lucky.”
John is now trying to use his experience to ensure that more people understand heart disease and heart health, receive CPR training and know where defibrillators are located in their community.