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Quick thinking saves life after cardiac arrest

When Phil visited his GP after a nasty cold left him with residual chest pains, he never imagined the result would be double bypass surgery. Six months later he suffered a cardiac arrest. Luckily the actions of a quick-thinking colleague saved his life. Here is his story in his own words.

Hi. My name is Phil. I’ve been married to Delwyn for 40 years and we have two adult children and three grandchildren.

I have generally considered myself to be a fit and active person who enjoys a healthy diet: meat, vegies, lots of fruit but with the odd ratbag fish-and-chip feed thrown in. We live in New Plymouth, a neat city, with the mountain on one side of us and the sea on the other. My most enjoyable thing to do is to get on my bike and ride along the seashore walkway.

My heart story starts in early 2014, at 60 years of age. I copped a nasty cold, some would say “man flu”, and I spent about three weeks continually coughing to the point my chest would ache. After getting over the cold, my chest continued to be sore and I noticed it was worse while riding my bike or on a cold day.

All this helped me to make a decision to see my family doctor who confirmed that there was possibly a heart issue and ordered tests at the heart unit at Taranaki Base Hospital. While waiting for the test appointment I used an angina spray when my chest became sore and the benefits were quite quick.

Tests reveal the severity of Phil’s condition

When my appointment finally came, I was wired up and walked the treadmill. After seven minutes on the electrocardiograph the nurse said she had seen enough to confirm there was indeed a heart issue. An angiogragh test was then ordered, which I had two months later at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Taranaki Base Hospital.

I found it very interesting lying on the table, watching it all on the screen, and thinking how the heck does the wire go from the wrist to the heart?

When the test was finished I expected to hear that maybe I would require a stent or two. But no - I was told I had a 95% and a 85% blockage in two of the main outer arteries and I would require double bypass surgery. To say this freaked me out is a bit of an understatement.

“Delwyn was told that I might not survive. Her answer to that was, 'He’s a stubborn old bugger. He won’t die.'”

Naïve me thought I would be sent home, but no I was kept in ICU overnight and flown up to Waikato the next day. This could not have happened at a worse time as we had just signed on to take on a transportation franchise.

Bypass surgery like being “backed over by a bus”

I can honestly say that when I woke up after the op I felt as though a bus had backed over me. I wasn’t quite prepared for the length of the cut where the artery was stripped out from my right leg – I definitely felt that. My first day in the care ward was about feeling sore and taking pain meds. But after three days I was up and about walking the length of the ward corridors to keep my fitness levels up.

I was due to be released at the weekend but a blood test showed my potassium level was low, which extended my stay for a few extra days. Delwyn was a touch annoyed as she had driven up to take me home and had to return three days later to collect me.

I am grateful for the care and attention I received from the staff at Waikato Hospital and also very grateful to Delwyn for her care and attention while I was recovering at home.

Lifestyle adjustments after heart surgery

I did a lot of walking and also made some adjustments to my diet. Fish-and-chips and anything fatty are now gone. I eat quite a lot of fruit. Also in my diet are the regular pills for blood thinning and reducing cholesterol which will be a part of the rest of my life – a small price to pay for staying alive.

After six weeks I returned to my job at a shopping centre doing general maintenance work. Life returned to normal with me feeling generally good and back to riding my bike and keeping fit. But occasionally I would get the odd comment from Delwyn or work colleagues that I was looking a bit off colour. Grey.  But I would shrug it off saying that I felt good.

A second event strikes

It was six months later - oddly enough on the 13th of January - that I rode my bike to work. I clearly remember arriving and putting my bike away in the workshop then having a quick scan of the newspaper. Next thing, I came to in ICU wondering where the hell I was.  Delwyn told me I’d had a cardiac arrest. Boy am I good at giving people a fright.

Turned out it was my lucky day. My work mate, Len, had also decided to ride to work rather than drive as he usually did. He arrived not long after me and got quite a shock to see me collapsed just outside the workshop. I have been told by Len that he yelled to another work colleague, George, to race up to the gym and get the portable defib unit. Len used the defib - incidentally the first ever use it had had - and also performed some rigorous CPR. His first aid training kicked in magnificently.

The first emergency services response was the fire brigade as they have their station up the road about 30 seconds away. They continued defib and CPR...

Lucky to be alive

If it had not been for Len’s instant response and good first aid common sense I would not be here today. I owe a big thanks to Len, the fire service and the attending ambulance crew for saving my life. I consider myself lucky to be alive as I know it is not a high percentage of persons who survive a cardiac arrest.

I do not remember much of the first few days of the time I was in ICU. I have been told I was kept on ice and Delwyn was told that I might not survive. Her answer to that was, “he’s a stubborn old bugger. He won’t die.

I have been told I had regular visitors and my memory of these visits is rather vague. After five days in ICU I was sent up to Waikato Hospital, this time in the rescue helicopter. This was only my second ride in a chopper (the first I’d had following a serious car crash seven years previously). It was a good flight but bloody noisy.

I needed to have a stent inserted and since then I have had no problems and generally feel fit and well.

Life after cardiac arrest

I was off work again for a time to recuperate and found that being on a benefit, care of WINZ, is not great. But we got through.

It has now been over a year since the cardiac arrest and I feel good. I do my best to keep my fitness up to scratch and to eat reasonably well and now I drink a lot more water. As much as the weather will allow, I enjoy being outside doing the gardening, mowing the lawns and riding my bike.

Heart disease runs in my family. I have an uncle who passed away from a cardiac arrest at 42 and just last year my brother passed from a cardiac arrest at the age of 60. Even so, I did not at all expect any of the past issues that I have been through.

I guess the moral of the story is that life goes on and that anyone is vulnerable to possible heart disease. It is all about maintaining a healthy life style and balancing that with plenty of exercise. I try not to let the past events worry me too much and really do my best to live life as normally as possible.


Written April 2017

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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  • Phil 1 July 2023

    Here we are 2023 I’m still enjoying retirement and still loving life. I have had an E bike for nearly two years and the goal is to complete 10,000 kilometers by the time 2 years is up I am close to acheiving that at 9756 Ks. Also now a gym bunny and regularly attend at least twice a week. Moral of the story is enjoy life and roll on.

  • Phil 31 March 2020

    Hi Pauline yeah I can understand it would put the bee jeezuz up you It certainly came from nowhere but now I can say all is good and I am fine and still booting along Now retired and still enjoying the gardens now more than ever. Stay strong and positive and try not to dwell on the negatives too much.All the best and stay safe.

  • Pauline 28 March 2020

    Hi Phil
    am I reading this right? you had a bypass then 6 months later still had a heart attack? That certainly puts the bejeezus into me having just had a dble bypass.
    Hope is all well with you now….

  • Jim 13 December 2017

    A great result for yourself, keep it going .Like you I had a cardiac arrest in July 2017 while playing tennis. I was worked on by the 3 mates I was playing with who gave me CPR until the Ambulance arrived 8 minutes later. They then worked on me for about 8 minutes until I arrived at the hospital where I finally came to. 2 stents and 5 months later and I am feeling great. Very grateful indeed to all who have helped me along the way including my wife .I also feel very lucky indeed .