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Family save father after cardiac arrest

It was the morning of Friday 1 April 2022, when Stuart suffered a cardiac arrest on his three-hectare Kāpiti Coast property. A property that, fortunately, he shares with his daughter’s family. Here both Stuart, and his daughter Tonya, share their experience of this fateful day.

Stuart's story

Tonya's story

Stuart's story

Photo of Stuart Jones sitting at an outside table in his garden.

In the weeks leading up to his cardiac arrest, Stuart confesses that he didn’t take much notice of his symptoms. At almost eighty years old, he attributed tiredness after physical work to age.

Over the preceding months, he’d had to stop due to nausea when he overexerted himself, and he’d noticed that he “was running out of puff mowing the lawn”, having to sit down to get his breath back.

He hadn’t had any heart issues in the past, but “had an inkling” something wasn’t right. Plus, he’d seen the Heart Foundation ads on TV about heart attacks.

“The signs were there,” he says, “but I didn’t acknowledge them.”

The day it happened

 “Things came to a head on 1 April, April Fool’s Day, about 10 in the morning,” Stuart recalls. “I was out picking up some puka leaves and that’s really the last thing I remember.”

Fortunately, he was near the house that he shares with his wife, his daughter and her family. Had he been at the bottom paddock, away from others on the property, there may have been a very different story to tell.

“Luckily my grandson arrived up the drive in his car and saw me on the ground. He raised the alarm with his mother and father, both working from home that day. I had no pulse apparently and it all took off from there.”

“My family saved my life”

Stuart had suffered a heart attack leading to cardiac arrest. However, through the quick actions of his 18-year-old grandson, daughter, son-in-law and visiting friends he is alive and well and sharing his story with others.

When he was found on the grass near the drive of his family home, Stuart was unconscious, not breathing and had no pulse. A visiting friend immediately began CPR before handing it over to Stuart’s son-in-law, Lance, to continue compressions.

Stuart doesn’t recall any of the actions that happened that day, but his family knew they needed a defibrillator and used an AED (automated external defibrillator) locator app to find the nearest.

Making it to hospital

Living in Paraparaumu on the Kāpiti Coast, the volunteer firefighters arrived first. When the Wellington Free Ambulance arrived from Porirua, they told his family they weren’t expecting him to still be alive, because there had been at least a 25-minute delay in arriving.

“That tells you something I suppose about how close I was,” Stuart says.

Although Stuart was conscious in the ambulance, he doesn’t recall anything and describes his first memories in the hospital as “very, very vague”.

He spent around nine days waiting in the hospital while clinicians planned his treatment and surgery. He recalls the time as feeling like he was in a fog.

Covid-19 protocols meant a reduction in visitor numbers, so his daughter Tonya took the role of primary visitor, supporting his care and discussions with medical staff.

Finally, Stuart got the news he’d been waiting for. A time had become available in the operating schedule and two hours later he had triple bypass surgery to repair the damage to his heart.

“It’s good to get home”

“I’ve got to say the hospital was great. Nothing wrong with the meals. The nurses were great. The doctors were great. From the hospital's point of view, I’ve got no complaints.” However, Stuart says it was “good to get home”.

At first, Stuart could hardly walk. He was extremely tired, and the pain was an issue. But that didn’t stop him from overdoing it initially.

“I wasn’t patient and would start pushing the envelope a bit and overdo it. People kept saying ‘don’t push it, take your time, it’s going to get better,” says Stuart.

Frustration in early days of recovery

In the early days of his recovery, Stuart was very dependent on his family to look after him and drive him around. He admits it was hard not to get frustrated.

When he felt down, people would tell him to stop beating himself up and to acknowledge how far he’d come. “But I wanted to get on with life,” Stuart says.

He acknowledges that he was fortunate to have good family support during his recovery. This included his family who were there on the day, as well as his other daughter who travelled from the United States and stayed for five weeks post-surgery to help. As a recipient of a quadruple heart bypass six months before Stuart’s incident, she was able to provide valuable insight and reassurance during his initial recovery.

Walking his way back to health

Stuart was soon picking up leaves on their Kāpiti property again but found he still got tired quickly. He focused on increasing the length of time he spent out of bed, but he also made sure he listened to his body and rested when needed.

Walking became an important part of his recovery, and Stuart and his wife decided early on to do as much as they could.

“I remember the first day we put our shoes on and I had a pair of hiking sticks, we got from here to the gate. That was my first exercise walking. It was a major achievement.”

From there, they aimed for a bit further each day, setting targets such as the letterboxes at the end of the 250m driveway, even putting a chair down there in case he needed it.

A very lucky chap

Stuart’s aware that everything worked in his favour and knows he had a team of people around him to help when he needed it.

“I don’t know how people get on when they’re already isolated in the community, with family not being there or not having many friends. It must be hard,” he says.

Six months on from surgery, Stuart knows he’s come a long way. He’s now walking about 40 minutes a day. Overall, he considers himself “a very lucky chap”.


Tonya's story

Photo of Tonya Jones and her husband Lance, sitting at an outside table in their garden.

Tonya was working from home on the morning of 1 April 2022 when she heard a crash. She didn’t think anything of it at first and assumed it was just part of the work happening at the neighbours. However, she’s just grateful that at about the same time her son’s car came down the gravel driveway.

“I heard the brakes slam on his car, the door fly open and him start yelling, ‘Grandad! Grandad! Grandad!’” says Tonya.

“I’m really impressed when it comes to my son. He didn’t just scream, he was talking directly to my father on the ground, and then started yelling out ‘Call 111!’”

Tonya credits her son’s clear call to action as an important step in the quick response from all involved.

She and her husband Lance ran outside. Friends staying in the caravan onsite, including a former nurse, also came to the rescue.

“Bridget came launching out and she’s the tiniest little thing, all of about four foot something or other. She came flying out like superwoman. I had never seen her run before. She launched herself in alongside Dad and checked his pulse – no pulse. I was looking for cues and her body language was not good. But she said, "we’ve got a chance.”

Friends and family start CPR

Bridget began CPR compressions and then instructed Tonya’s husband Lance to continue. Tonya remained on the phone with emergency services and Bridget took a step back to provide calm guidance.

Both Tonya and Lance found the 111 emergency dispatcher amazing.

“Whoever she was, she suited us, because we are ex-military. She was dishing out orders. Not rude, just very direct, very determined. She was so calm. She was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant."

“The first 15 minutes were without a defibrillator, and Dad came round three, maybe four times,” Tonya recalls. “The process itself was really confronting because the way he was breathing was death rattles. His whole body was just shuddering; but obviously, he was getting oxygen into his body, so we were just pumping that round.”

A defibrillator makes a difference

Tonya knew she needed a defibrillator to have a chance at restarting Stuart’s heart. Fortunately, she knew of the AED (automated external defibrillator) locator app and Bridget’s husband Tony raced off to get the closest defibrillator from a nearby dental centre.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to be in his way, and good on him for having the presence of mind to be able to get in a vehicle and drive in that situation,” says Tonya.

With 30 years of experience in events, Tonya had used a defibrillator in first aid training and was comfortable following the instructions of the machine. However, she says there was a key difference between those she’d previously practised on and the AED they had on the day – the latter required her to press a button to give the shock.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” says Tonya. “Not the first one, the first was easy-peasy because I didn’t know what to expect, but by the time I’d seen what it did to my dad’s body while he was lying on the ground, I was pretty hesitant to press it again.”

In the end, Stuart was shocked four times before the emergency services arrived.

Tonya reflects on the events of the day

In describing the events of that day, Tonya points out that CPR training is very sanitised. “In real life, it is nothing like that,” she says. “You’ve got to be brutal. Get rid of the fancy stuff, and just go hard.”

She credits Lance for being able to keep up chest compressions and help keep blood flowing throughout the 20 minutes it took for Stuart to regain a pulse and consciousness.

When Tonya and her dad reached the hospital, he had two cracked ribs and his heart was bruised – but it was working, and he was alive.

The family acknowledge they were lucky that all the puzzle pieces were in place to help get a positive outcome on that day and reflect that it could have easily played out differently.

Tonya has since been to the dental surgery that had the AED available to thank them and tell them her dad survived because of their defibrillator. She says both she, and the staff present that day, were practically in tears.

Since the event, she has also had people say to her, “I could never do that”. She wants them – and everyone reading her story – to know that they could.

“You can! If you can physically push down on something, you can do compressions.”

Shared October 2022

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

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3 Comments

  • Kevin 28 October 2022

    Wonderful news that Stuart is improving and it was marvelous that the family kept their heads together. The App on my phone showing all of the AED’s in our area is so important . I had 6 years in the Fire service and with out a doubt these new AED’s are life savers along with doing CPR , I am now 77 and I am getting a little puffed at times . I had a Aorta Valve replaced 17 years ago ( Mechanical ATS) so I am very aware of the problems that can occur at any time .....God bless and best wishes Stuart ...

  • Dee 27 October 2022

    What an amazing story

  • pam 21 October 2022

    Great to hear others stories.

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