HEART attack survivor Andrew Gale said joining the Northcote Aquatic and Recreation Centre was the least he could do after quick thinking staff saved his life.
Recuperating after surgery, Mr Gale, 52, recently joined the gym to improve his fitness and in gratitude to customer service staff member Samuel Fontana and duty manager Anthony Secoulidis who came to his aid on Friday, February 13, this year.
Now intent on stepping up his exercise regime and improving his diet to prevent further attacks, Mr Gale has taken the Heart Foundation’s slogan ‘Move More, Sit Less!’ seriously and has chosen National Heart Week (May 3 to 9) to share his near death experience to help others recognise the warning signs and take action.
“I’d been for a swim in the indoor pool and when I got out and had a shower I felt a bit of tightness in the chest and started to perspire,” Mr Gale said.
“I was feeling a bit crook and thought I’d just drive home and lie down.”
Fortunately Mr Fontana noticed the Reservoir resident’s symptoms and advised him to take a seat, while he got him some water and contacted Mr Secoulidis who hurried to assist, calling an ambulance, giving Mr Gale oxygen and calming him down.
“By that time the pain was a lot worse and I felt like I had an elephant sitting on my chest,” Mr Gale said.
“The ambulance officer said another 15 minutes and I would have been dead.”
Mr Gale said if Mr Fontana hadn’t stopped him, he would have gone home to bed and “never woken up”.
He said the ambulance rushed him from the centre to the Austin Hospital and he was trolleyed straight upstairs to the theatre where a heart surgeon removed a huge blockage from his pulmonary artery, putting in two stents.
Mr Fontana, former Darebin Mayor and Cazaly Ward Cr Vince Fontana’s son, said last week he could tell straight away there was something wrong with Mr Gale.
“He looked like a ghost — he was very pale and moving at a slow pace,” he said.
“When he told me he just wanted to grab his keys and drive home, I asked him to take a seat and radioed Anthony and he took it from there.”
Mr Fontana said he and Mr Secoulidis were thrilled Mr Gale decided to become a member of the YMCA-run centre, despite his experience and the fact it wasn’t closest to where he lived.
“He obviously feels safe — he wouldn’t come back to join the gym where he almost died if he didn’t feel safe,” he said.
Mr Secoulidis said as soon as Mr Gale told him he was having chest pains, he suspected a heart attack so gave him oxygen, accessed the centre’s defibrillator and got his symptoms and details to pass onto the paramedics who were on their way.
Mr Secoulidis said he, Mr Fontana and other centre staff had first aid training so were on the alert for “worst case scenarios” such as heart attacks.
National Heart Foundation CEO Mary Barry said men lagged behind women in looking after their heart health, with twice as many men as women hospitalised for heart disease, according to Medibank data.
“Every day 98 Australian men will have a heart attack and tragically one in seven of these men will die,” she said.
She said regular exercise was vital, with an estimated 14,000 deaths per year in Australia attributed to inactivity.
This month the Northcote Aquatic and Recreation Centre and 17 other centres across Victoria are launching a new program called Heartmoves in partnership with the Heart Foundation.
Heartmoves is a low to moderate intensity group exercise program safe for people with long term health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
Northcote Aquatic and Recreation Centre would like to acknowledge both Julia Irwin from the Leader Newspaper for compiling the story and Adam Elwood from the Leader Newspaper for the photography, not to mention the staff involved for their wonderful efforts!