Stroke of luck helps Jim survive cardiac arrest

Jim had just hit a winning shot on the tennis court when he collapsed after suffering a cardiac arrest. With CPR and a defibrillator his friends saved his life.

When Jim left home that Tuesday afternoon in July 2017, he had no warning signs of the life-threatening event that was to come.

He was meeting a group of friends who had been playing tennis together regularly for 30 years. Since the Christchurch earthquakes, they played on a friend’s private court in Fendalton and enjoyed the weekly exercise and chance to catch up.

“I don’t have any memory of that afternoon after I left home,” says Jim, “but everyone there said I was playing fine.”

Immediately after hitting the winning shot, Jim collapsed on the court.

At first his friends thought it was theatrics but they quickly realised it was much more serious. Jim’s heart had stopped – it was a cardiac arrest.

CPR and defibrillator save Jim’s life

There were two things working in Jim’s favour that day.

For a start, there was an AED (automated external defibrillator) nearby. In a stroke of luck his friend had bought one for the tennis court and the house, after suffering a heart attack six years earlier.

“At the time he’d said, ‘We are all getting older, I am going to get two defibrillators just in case.’ We didn’t think much about it at the time, but it certainly came in handy,” Jim recalls.

What’s more, three of Jim’s friends were CPR-trained. Putting their panic aside, one started chest compressions while another ran to get the defibrillator.

Jim’s friends used the defibrillator and continued to take turns at CPR until the ambulance arrived.

“They think they did between 600 and 800 compressions and were completely mentally and physically exhausted afterwards,” Jim says. “They were really quite traumatised by the experience.”

One later told Jim in hospital that he’d been really worried about breaking Jim’s ribs.

“I said, ‘I couldn’t have cared less. I’m still alive!’” Jim says. “The ambulance officer said I was very lucky to be where I was with people who had a defibrillator and who knew how to do CPR. My doctor told me that the majority of people don’t survive an event like this so I do feel very lucky. It really was a case of being in the right place at the right time.”

Recovering from cardiac arrest

Waking up in hospital Jim was very confused and had no memory of what had happened. The doctors put in two stents to improve blood flow to the heart and Jim couldn’t believe how much better he felt.

“Looking back there were some signs that I hadn’t realised were heart-related. I had been feeling very tired for several weeks, had some severe night sweats and some heart palpitations. Also going for a bike ride a few weeks earlier I had had some chest discomfort and stopped three times going up to Kennedys Bush. But I just thought it was because I hadn’t been for a while.”

After spending several days in Christchurch hospital Jim and his wife have nothing but compliments for the staff who they describe as amazing.

“We also went to cardiac rehab which was very helpful and completed an eight-week course with Green Prescription. There is a lot of great support out there.”

Jim has also focused on heart-healthy eating. “We have made some diet changes and I am more aware now of what I am eating. I actually feel like my taste buds have changed and I have cut way down on sugar.”

Positive changes

Two years on from that traumatic afternoon Jim and his wife feel some good has come from the experience.

At the court that afternoon Jim’s friends couldn’t contact his wife because his phone was locked and no one knew the code. Now there is a list of partners’ contact details kept at the tennis court

Jim and his wife organised a free CPR course with Red Cross for a group of friends and neighbours. Plus, they’ve downloaded the AED locator app on their phones so they always know where the closest defibrillator is.

“I think it has made everyone we know more aware of what could happen, it has been a real education,” he says.

Jim is now back playing tennis again and feeling great.

“I am just really grateful to be alive, the guys and gals did a great job and I am very aware of how lucky I was to be where I was.”

 

Shared August 2019

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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