PHIL Prosser was training for an upcoming half ironman when he started struggling to breathe and suffered a sudden cardiac arrest.
The Burns Beach triathlete was about 20 minutes into a swim session with his squad at Craigie Leisure Centre on Monday, March 27 when he realised something was not right.
“I thought it was a bit unusual so instead of breathing every three strokes, I started to breathe every second stoke,” the 54-year-old said.
“That wasn’t working so I pulled over to the side of the pool.
“My coach came along and thought I had a cramp because I’d cycled for an hour-and-a-half before I went swimming.
“I said ‘I can’t get any air in my lungs’.
“It was an unusual feeling; it was like I was sucking in the air but it wasn’t having any effect.
“Then all of a sudden it went as if it was overcast and that was me blacking out.”
Lucky for Mr Prosser, his “really good friend” and fellow triathlon club member Mike Tindale – a former paramedic – was nearby.
“He saw me grabbing my chest and wandering in to oncoming swimmers, which I don’t remember,” he said.
“Then I started sliding down the side of the pool.”
He said another squad member pushed him up out of the pool while his coach grabbed him by the arms and pulled him out.
“I’m unconscious at this time so this is recollection from those guys telling me what happened,” he said.
“They put me on the pool deck and Mike started CPR immediately.”
He said another nearby swimmer was a retired anaesthetist and took over CPR so Mr Tindale could start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while the lifeguards went to get the defibrillator.
“They gave me three shocks and I think on the third shock I started to gasp and I started to fit,” Mr Prosser said.
“They still couldn’t get any response – they opened my eyes and my pupils weren’t responding – but I was starting to breathe by myself so I think they got my heart started.
“I think the whole process to try and get me conscious, because I was pretty much dead on the pool deck, was 15 minutes, so that must have felt like an eternity for those guys.
“As coincidence would have it, the paramedics from the ambulance weren’t far away so they got there quite quickly.
“The next thing I remember, I was in the ambulance and I remember seeing the roof of the ambulance and the guy chatting to me saying ‘hey Phil, you’ve been swimming this morning and you’ve had a bit of an incident but you’re in good hands and we’re on the way to Royal Perth Hospital’.
“I remember him saying to me ‘you know your good friend Mike Tindale, I think you owe him more than a beer’.”
St John Ambulance area manager Darren Ginnane said Mr Prosser’s life was saved “through a combination of bystander CPR, defibrillation via an AED (automated external defibrillator) at the leisure centre and ambulance paramedic interventions”.
“This allowed him to reach Royal Perth Hospital alive where he has since gone on to be fitted with a pacemaker and he is now on the road to full recovery,” he said.
“We praise the people who came to his aid, including Phil’s good mate and ex paramedic Mike Tindale and the City of Joondalup for having AEDs in their leisure centre.”
Mr Prosser said while the prognosis was not confirmed, it appeared he might have a genetic heart condition called right ventricular cardiomyopathy.
“It is very, very rare and they don’t have a lot of information on it because I think a lot of people don’t make it to this point,” he said.
“A lot of the research has been done on cadavers because not many people live to tell the story.“It’s not 100 per cent but it’s looking likely because it’s quite odd for someone of my level of fitness just to have a cardiac arrest.”
Last Friday, Mr Prosser was fitted with a defibrillator in his chest, which will automatically shock his heart if he ever has another sudden cardiac arrest.
He said this past week had been “quite an emotional rollercoaster”.
“I’m just really, really lucky that I swim with some guys that have got some pretty good skills,” he said.
“If it had happened when I was running, usually at 5am when there’s no one around, I could have been just found somewhere in the middle of the bush or along the coast or if I was riding my bike, it wouldn’t have been a good result either.
“I’m just lucky I was in a pool with some good people and at one of the few places where there’s a defibrillator around.
“All the planets aligned that day for me; it was definitely not my time.”
Mr Prosser said it had been a “massive shock” for friends and family, including his wife and five daughters.
“If I’d known ahead of time that I might have this condition, I probably would have been avoiding doing endurance sports because it’s probably the worst thing you can do,” he said.
“If that is the prognosis, it will be pretty life changing for me.
“I probably won’t be able to continue doing endurance sports.
“I might join Joondalup golf course instead of doing my next ironman.”