4 Things I Learned From Surviving a Cardiac Arrest At 24.

Anybody can suddenly drop dead at any time.

At around 8:15 pm on January 13th this year, I was making a run towards the goal playing futsal in Footscray. As the ball went out of play, my knees suddenly buckled and I collapsed onto the hardwood floor out of nowhere.

That Wednesday felt like most hump days before it. An engaging day at my home office followed by Kaos’ first Futsal game of the New Year. Excited to get off to a winning start, I vaguely recall a normal carpool ride en route to the stadium. Unfortunately, that’s as far as my memory stretches for that evening and the ensuing couple of days.

From here onwards I’m relying solely on the recollections of those who witnessed what happened that night first hand. From what my teammates tell me, it was deep into the second half of an intense match, and we were likely to come out second best. In a dire attempt to swing the momentum back into our direction, I made an offensive run into our attacking half that didn’t eventuate into anything in particular.

My knees buckled while slowing down and I amazingly collapsed unconscious on the hardwood floor without a scratch. According to Ambulance Victoria, every 5-second delay to CPR shrinks the likelihood of defibrillation success by 50%. In other words, rapid action was critical to the success of my resuscitation even though no one in the stadium knew I’d gone into cardiac arrest at that point.

Astoundingly, I was fortunate enough to have an off-duty police officer, Todd, as an opponent, who came to my aid immediately. As a police officer, CPR training is a prerequisite for Todd’s job. Todd also didn’t hesitate to commence compressions, boosting my chances of survival enormously. What are the odds, right?

While Todd was performing compressions to reinstate the oxygen and blood supply to my body, paramedics were notified. The imminent ambos started giving instructions on how to resuscitate me while they made the short journey to Whitten Oval.

Less than ten minutes following the emergency call from the stadium, paramedics arrived and commenced their defibrillator shocks to return my heart back to its normal rhythm. Not to mention the plethora of other tasks they were doing to keep me alive. Ironically, John, an off-duty paramedic was also in the building. John just so happened to be part of the paramedic crew that was working on me and knew each one of the paramedics personally. Just when I thought the story couldn’t get any more bizarre.

From the stadium, I was rushed to the Royal Melbourne Hospital and placed in an induced coma for 40 hours. My family and close friends were informed that I suffered from ventricular fibrillation, which caused a cardiac arrest a few hours later. Thankfully, I was cleared of any permanent neurological and structural heart damage two days later.

Lowest of lows or highest of highs?

The eleven days from the time I was awoken to the time I was released from the hospital on the 26th of January weren’t exactly smooth sailing. I suffered from pneumonia, bruised ribs, short term memory loss, and a collapsed lung all while being put through an energy-sapping battery of tests to determine why a fit and healthy 24 year old would suddenly suffer from a life-threatening cardiac arrest. The cause of which is still unknown, and will likely never be known.

Although that may sound uncomfortable, the love and support I received from family, friends, and colleagues during my lowest of lows was unwavering and made the whole experience considerably more tolerable. I can’t thank you enough. You all know who you are.

Another powerful force that made each day not only tolerable but worth celebrating was gratuity. Most people never survive to tell the tale after such a traumatic event. Most people aren’t fortunate enough to have the swift thinking and appropriate action I had to ensure I had the best chance of survival. The very fact that I was there, alive, and on the mend from an event less than 10% of people survive was enough to inspire me to soak up every breath and thank my lucky stars for the fact I’d been given a second shot at life.

So, what now?

Thanks to the marvel of modern medicine I’ll be living out the rest of my days with a defibrillator in my chest, connected to my heart through a wire. Much like an insurance policy, or guardian angel, my defibrillator only acts when absolutely necessary. Should my heart ever decide to return back to the life-threatening rhythm that caused my cardiac arrest, the defibrillator will shock my heart back into a normal rhythm. Ironically, there’s every chance that may never happen again.

“After 5 years as a paramedic working on cases just like yours I’ve never seen or heard of anyone surviving.” — John

What’s most unbelievable is that I’ll be able to return to a normal life. After speaking with cardiologists, nurses, and John (one of the many undercover heroes of this story), the fact that I’m gearing up to live a normal life is truly astounding. In John’s words, “after 5 years as a paramedic working on cases just like yours I’ve never seen or heard of anyone surviving.” He also suggested I “buy a lottery ticket”, although I’m not a gambling man, I’ll be heeding that advice.

Heart attack? cardiac arrest? What’s the difference?

During my recovery I’ve noticed people using the terms ‘Heart Attack’ and ‘Cardiac Arrest’ interchangeably. While both events are extremely serious and associated with the heart, It’s important to understand that a cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack.

A heart attack is a circulation problem that occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. A cardiac arrest is an abrupt electrical heart malfunction where the heart suddenly stops beating correctly or at all.

A person experiencing a heart attack will normally be alert, breathing, and suffering from chest pain and/or other symptoms. In some cases, a heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest.

Someone in cardiac arrest will not be conscious or breathing normally. They require immediate assistance by calling Triple Zero (000), starting chest compressions (CPR), and the use of a defibrillator (AED). Some telltale signs of a cardiac arrest include sudden collapse, no pulse, no breath, abnormal breathing, and loss of consciousness.

You can learn more about heart attack warning signs here. You can learn more about cardiac arrests here.

I was unaware of the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest. It’s taken for me to suffer from the latter to educate myself on the significant difference in symptoms and treatment between the two. Hopefully, I’ve educated you too.

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards” — Vernon Saunders Law

All adversity provides us with a few lessons as byproducts. It’s up to us to absorb and act upon those learnings to ensure we continue to develop and improve. Like you know already, I had an abundance of time to think and prompt reflective discussion during my recovery. Now that you know the back story, it’s time I dig a little deeper into the lessons we can all take from what happened to me. Here’s what I came up with.

1. The $100 dollar course that might save a life and keep a family together that only 22% of Australians have taken.

If it wasn’t for Todd, I wouldn’t be here. It’s as blunt and as simple as that.

While it’s true that sudden cardiac events in young people are uncommon, even one life lost is one too many. The power of taking the steps now that can help reduce the risk of these tragedies is enormous. Trust me, I know.

The ironic part is that you may never use your CPR training, but you may use it once. That ‘once’ isn’t just a whole entire life you’re changing, but the many lives around that person.

Todd did an incredible job saving my life, but he also averted a tragedy amongst my family and friends. He helped save a mother and father from losing their son, a sister from losing a brother, a girlfriend from losing a partner, best mates from losing a fellow best mate. The list goes on. The profound impact of learning CPR stretches far beyond the person you’re resuscitating. It can mean the avoidance of grievances and trauma amongst the network of people that person is connected to.

A 2020 study found that 56% of Australians reported previous CPR training, but only 22% were currently trained (within 1 year).

Just let that sink in for a moment. Should you ever need it (I hope you never do), there’s a 22% you’ll be administered CPR by someone qualified to perform it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like those odds. Just writing this is making me tremble at the fact that I was fortunate enough to have someone nearby who was CPR trained. The unfortunate reality is the vast majority of people don’t get so lucky.

Imagine going for a walk with the most important person in your life. It’s just you two, with nobody around, and suddenly, they collapse. To make matters worse, you have no idea what to do other than call an ambulance. That feeling of pure helplessness is one you never want to experience. Especially if it means the difference between life and death.

Let’s make it our mission to give more people the second chance I had. We all deserve one.

There is literally no excuse for not learning CPR.

After scouring the internet for an hour, I found CPR courses ranging from $35-$100 located across all states, territories, and major cities. From my perspective, the small sacrifice associated with taking a CPR course is a minuscule price to pay in exchange for saving a life and keeping a family intact. So, what are you waiting for?

You can read more about CPR and where you can find an accredited training centre on the Australian Resuscitation Councils’ website.

You can also book a course directly with the Australian Red Cross here.

Get on it.

2. Appreciate the ordinary days.

Trauma can hit at any time, and it’s always when we least expect it. We’re conditioned to consume the bombardment of stories surrounding traumatic experiences faced by others on a daily basis. While they’re mostly harrowing tales of tragedy and despair, we tend to accept the vicissitudes of other people’s lives for what they are and assume we’re immune to anything so horrible as a coping mechanism.

I’m aware of how confronting this may sound, but the reality is none of us are insulated from trauma and we’d be naive to believe otherwise. So the question begs, how can we be at peace with the fact calamity can strike any one of us at any moment without becoming a hermit crab?

My answer comes packaged in a bundle of gratitude.

Why gratitude is non-negotiable.

In its simplest form, gratitude is the feeling of thankfulness for what we have. It’s designed to help us be thankful for the good in our lives, rather than focusing our attention on our troubles. When we practice gratitude, our brains release dopamine and serotonin, the two key neurotransmitters accountable for making us feel ‘good’. Together, dopamine and serotonin immediately amplify our mood, making us feel happier. Interestingly, smiling has the same effect, so smile more and smile often.

I’d read about the power of gratuity and practiced it modestly before my incident. I must say its importance has climbed a few rungs all the way to the top of the old wellness priority ladder of late. Here’s why.

When we allocate chunks of time to focus solely on everything that’s great in our lives, from everyone we love to our most treasured experiences, we become more positive and genuinely happier. When you’re living and breathing happiness and positivity, you possess the power to influence the people around you to follow in your footsteps. Positive energy is contagious.

One of the many beauties of gratitude is that it’s not complex to practice, and doesn’t it need to be practiced within the confines of a rulebook. While I prefer to handwrite a list of 3–4 things I’m grateful for every few days, you might prefer to take a walk and think about what you’re grateful for today. With that said, consistency is key. The more you hone in on your gratuity practice, the better you’ll feel.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

You can never be fully prepared for a traumatic event. All you can do is your utmost to identify and savour all that’s good in your life while it’s there. I’m hopeful my experience will help you recognise the magic that resides within a normal, uneventful day.

For further reading on the topic, I highly recommend you read Leigh Sales life-altering book, ‘Any Ordinary Day’. In her book, Ms. Sales shares the stories of ordinary people who are suddenly forced to find resilience they never knew they had.

I’d also recommend ‘The Resilience Project’ by Hugh Van Culyenburg. In his book, Mr. Van Cuylenburg discusses the importance of developing gratuity, empathy, and mindfulness practices.

3. You’ll only ever have one body and mind.

Let me paraphrase a fable from one of my heroes in business and life, Mr. Warren Buffett.

Let’s transport to a hypothetical world and assume that on the eve of your 18th birthday a genie appears and offers you the car of your choice. It could be any car you wanted, all you had to do was make a decision and the car would be there with a big ribbon on it, ready for you to take for a spin the next day.

Sensing that this might be too good to be true, you ask the genie, “what’s the catch, Mate?” The genie replies “there is only one catch, this will be the first and final car you ever have, so it needs to last for as long as you’re alive.”

Think about that for a second, any car you want, that needs to last you a lifetime, how on earth would you manage that?

Well if it were me, I would read the owner’s manual back to front, always keep it garaged, have it serviced on time, and make sure I was filling it with the best fuel available. I would baby that car because it would need to last me a lifetime.

One car, one mind, and one body.

The approach is the same when it comes to your mind and body. The last time I checked, we’re only given one mind and body that needs to last us a lifetime. It’s easy to take them for granted in your youth, but if you don’t nurture that mind and that body, they’ll be in ruins right when you need them the most, just like the car would be. It’s the actions you take today that decide how well your body and mind function decades from now.

Fortunately, I’ve always tried to keep myself in great knick mentally and physically. Thankfully those efforts paid dividends when my body was in the midst of its biggest fight yet.

Think of it this way, if you were planning on taking a cross country drive you’d want fresh oil, new tyres, and confirmation from a mechanic that your car was ready for the journey, right? You’d want your car to be fighting fit because any slight niggles with the car might lead to additional complications down the road, making it harder for you to reach your destination.

The same principle applies to your mind and body, and it should be a wake-up call for those who need it. Your body could be called in for the fight of a lifetime at any moment. Give yourself the best chance of victory by cherishing your mind and body like it’s the only car you’ll ever have.

4. Our healthcare workers being heroes isn’t just a COVID cliche.

Throughout my time in the hospital, I had the pleasure of meeting at least two dozen nurses and doctors, not to mention the incredible paramedics whom I sadly have no recollection of.

Fortunately for me, I’ve been lucky enough to have never spent an extended period of time in the hospital up until this point, so I’d only been witness to the bravery, patience, and intellect of nurses and doctors from a secondary perspective. But after being treated for 13 days, I developed newfound respect and admiration for the people on the front lines. Their selflessness and commitment to my recovery were absolutely incredulous.

While I genuinely struggle to articulate enough superlatives for our healthcare workers, I’m also ashamed to hear that we’re in the midst of a crisis in our healthcare sector.

Healthcare workers have been on the receiving end of violence and aggression from patients, visiting friends, family, and even bystanders for decades.

When I began investigating the topic, I assumed this shocking behavior was limited to those under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or those who aren’t operating at full mental capacity. What I didn’t know is that it’s often just regular people struggling through stressful circumstances.

When we envision verbal and physical abuse happening to healthcare workers, we think “I could never do something like that”. Sadly, when we’re placed in stressful circumstances we’re more inclined to act in ways that we usually wouldn’t.

“95% of our healthcare workers have experienced verbal or physical assault.”

Unfortunately, the numbers speak for themselves here. “On average a paramedic is assaulted in Victoria every 50 hours. Last year 147 paramedics were assaulted” and up to “95% of our healthcare workers have experienced verbal or physical assault”. All while trying to care for the sick and elderly and trying to keep people alive.

Tragically, it seems the numbers have been moving in the wrong direction for quite some time. There were 3,719 assaults in hospitals in the financial year ending in 2016. At the end of the 2019 financial year, that figure had climbed to 5,514. That’s a 50% rise in 3 years.

Growing up I was taught to never bite the hand that feeds you, which is why I’m revolted to learn how far out of hand this crisis has become. The selfless few who commit their lives to help others should not be subject to the abuse they’re facing.

If you find yourself in a situation where someone needs emergency healthcare or is receiving emergency treatment, here is what you can do to assist in creating safe conditions for paramedics to work in.

For more general information and how you can help to prevent cases of occupational violence or aggression, check out Worksafe’s website.

If you only take one thing from this whole article, let it be this.

I wouldn’t blame you for believing January 13th was the worst day of my life. It was the day I suffered a terrifying cardiac arrest and subsequently broke the hearts and permanently traumatised the people closest to me. That all sounds quite alarming, but like I hope this story has done on several occasions, it’s worth rotating perspectives.

From my standpoint, January 13th will be remembered as the day my heart suddenly stopped, but it’s also the day I survived. It’s the day I got a second chance at life, which is a chance most people never get. It’s the day we learned the importance of CPR and how fragile human life can be. It’s the day we learned to cherish our minds and bodies. It’s also the day we learned to be grateful for the ordinary days and to appreciate the people closest to us daily.

The experience we extract from our lives is dependent on the lens through which we view it. The choice of lens is entirely yours. It’s my hope that reading my story has helped to shift your perspective for the betterment of yourself and those around you.

Finally, It would mean everything to me if you could share this post with your friends, family, and networks. The lessons I’ve taken from this experience are far bigger than just me and deserve to be shared far and wide so as many people as possible can take action today.

Acknowledgments.

The collaborative efforts of Todd, John, the paramedics at Ambulance Victoria, the nurses, doctors, and professors at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and Melbourne Private Hospital. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be alive to tell the tale. Thank you.

Turner & Townsend for their commitment to me and my recovery.

Friends and extended family, with deep gratitude for your loyalty, generosity, and empathy.

My Mum, Dad, and Sister, whose love, guidance, and support lead me to greener pastures.

Emily, for your unrelenting smiles, patience, and rock-like strength. You’re one of a kind.

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Jesse Amato

Jesse Amato

Here to help make financial wisdom go viral by providing actionable insights and tips from down under 📣 Always Learning 📚 https://themoneypal.com/