Seal Media Group, Australia
The 24-year-old Victorian was seated alongside two teammates in the car, listening to music and chatting. For what took place after that car journey, he relies solely on the recollections of others.Late in the match, Amato made a desperate run into the attacking half and while slowing down, his knees buckled and he collapsed. Out of nowhere, he was showing no signs of life. His heart had stopped pumping, he had stopped breathing and his skin started to turn blue as the blood rushed out of his brain.“I didn’t feel anything beforehand,” he told news.com.au. “The experience itself is one I don’t have any recollection of, but the people that were helping me definitely have.“I’m essentially talking to you right now mainly because of one person.”That person was Todd, an off-duty police officer who was on the other team. Todd quickly recognised Amato’s condition and immediately started CPR compressions while another player called for an ambulance.Without those 10 minutes of CPR before the ambulance arrived, Amato would have either died or, at best, suffered severe brain damage. If the brain does not receive oxygen after three minutes, brain cells start to die rapidly.Todd’s compressions kept blood and oxygen circulating around Amato’s body before the ambulance’s defibrillator shocked his heart back into a normal rhythm.“Todd was literally the vital cog in me being able to speak to you right now,” Amato said. “It was just my lucky day, really. But of course, not everyone gets so lucky.”A paramedic later joked he should purchase a lottery ticket. Amato had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest, which occurs when the heart stops beating or is not beating sufficiently to maintain life. Out of hospital, sudden cardiac arrest has a survival rate of 12 per cent, with approximately 22,000 deaths in Australia every year.A recent report conducted by Economic Connections found the economic cost associated with sudden cardiac deaths in Australia is around $51.2 billion per year. Amato had not experienced any major health issues before the cardiac arrest. Quite the opposite, in fact. There is no history of cardiovascular disease in his family. He played sport, loved running, regularly went to the gym and consumed a plant-based diet that mainly consisted of vegetables and whole grains.“Among my group of friends, I’m pretty much the ‘fit’ guy,” he laughed.“If you were to tell me I was going to have a health incident this year, a heart-related one would have essentially been at the bottom of my list.”Amato woke up in Royal Melbourne Hospital 40 hours later, disoriented and confused. He had been placed in an induced coma, but was still suffering from short-term memory loss.“Those 48 hours were pretty harrowing for my close friends and family,” he said. “There was still some debate as to whether I’d have any kind of brain damage while I was in my coma. They weren’t able to tell whether or not my memory would come back as strong because of the downtime I had with not having oxygen going to my brain.”It took Amato two weeks to recover from rib bruising and pneumonia, before he was cleared of any permanent heart damage and permitted to leave the hospital.These days he wears an implantable defibrillator, an ICD, which sits in his chest and watches his heart 24 hours a day.“If it ever picks up that irregular rhythm, then it will shock me back into that normal rhythm,” he explained. “It essentially acts as an insurance policy.”Moment the football world held its breathFive months after Amato’s near-death experience, another footballer’s sudden cardiac arrest dominated headlines around the world.In June, footage of Denmark’s Christian Eriksen collapsing during a Euro 2020 match against Finland shocked the football community, along with haunting images of his teammates forming a protective guard as he was treated by medics.After Eriksen hit the turf, Denmark captain Simon Kjaer quickly secured the 29-year-old’s neck, cleared his airways and administrated CPR until medics arrived. He then consoled Eriksen’s distraught wife, wrapping his arms around her as medics resuscitated the Inter Milan midfielder.Kjaer’s quick intervention was crucial. Eriksen may not have survived without it.Many football fans understandably asked the same question following the ordeal; how can something like this happen to a professional athlete in the prime of his career?Contrary to popular belief, athletes are particularly vulnerable to sudden cardiac arrest. Because physical activity is a triggering risk factor, sudden cardiac arrest occurs three times more frequently in athletes than non-athletes.It can strike anyone at any time, irrespective of weight or age.Cricket pro’s near-death experienceAlecz Day is an ex-professional cricketer who represented Wellington in New Zealand’s domestic competition between 2014 and 2016.The Queenslander played alongside the likes of former Australian wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi and Black Caps great Grant Elliott, scoring a fifty on List A debut against Otago.Day eventually returned to Queensland Premier Grade Cricket, where he captains the Sunshine Coast Scorchers.His sister played hockey for Australia, while his mother represented the New Zealand basketball team. But despite this long-running history of sport in his family, Day fell victim to a sudden cardiac arrest last January, aged 29.Day was chatting with his teammates following a fitness exercise when, without warning, he collapsed face-first onto the ground. A calcification that broke off an existing injury had stuck in his left anterior descending artery, causing a blockage.“When it happened, I was as fit as I’ve ever been,” Day told news.com.au. “Here I am 18 months down the track, and no one still knows why it happened.”Luckily for Day, a police officer and physio trained in first aid were present. They performed CPR on him for approximately 15 minutes before an ambulance arrived, but he suffered a second cardiac arrest soon after he was transported to a nearby hospital.“Because the blockage wasn’t removed, every time they got my heart beating again, it eventually stopped until the blockage was gone,” he explained.Following a third cardiac arrest, doctors found and removed the blockage. Day woke from a coma two days later and was out of ICU that same week.Day conducted six weeks of cardiac rehab before he was permitted to start jogging again three months later. He resumed full-intensity exercise in June 2020 and was playing cricket that following summer.“The ambulance people told me they were not prepared for a 29-year-old as fit as I was to have this, or wake up from it,” Day said.“They said, ‘We turn up to these and most of the time, we don’t get anyone back. We don’t expect people to survive’.“The doctors were completely baffled. They really had no idea.“There wasn’t anything I could have done to prevent the cardiac arrest. It was just an absolute miracle that it happened to me, and it was a miracle that I survived.”Although regular exercise can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, the best strategy for lowering rates of sudden cardiac death during sport is greater bystander knowledge of CPR and availability of automated external defibrillators (AEDs).An AED is designed to help revive someone from a sudden cardiac arrest, guiding users through the resuscitation process. If a defibrillator is used and effective CPR is performed within three to five minutes of collapse, the chance of survival increases from six per cent to 74 per cent. The Sunshine Coast Scorchers owned an AED, but the club’s veterans side had taken it with them to a cricket carnival.Since his cardiac arrest, Day’s parents have donated an AED to the club that remains on the premises at all times.“It obviously took a bit of a toll on them, as you’d expect,” Day said.“The people who were probably affected most was everyone around me, as opposed to me. I had a cardiac arrest, I had a two-day nap, and I woke up. But the people around me are the ones who suffered the most.“I didn’t really suffer; I had no pain. If I had passed away that day, it felt like I would have passed away without pain.”Yellow Wiggle is on a missionWhile Amato was recovering in hospital, he had plenty of spare time because not many visitors were allowed due to strict Covid-19 regulations.He soaked up the hours by writing an article about his experience, and his girlfriend convinced him to share the story online.“It blew up more than I expected it would, so much so that Greg Page got in touch,” Amato said.Most Australians know Page as the original Yellow Wiggle, serving as a member of the popular band between 1991 and 2013.Page made headlines in January 2020 after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest while performing at a Wiggles reunion show in Sydney. The exhausted 48-year-old fell to his knees while walking offstage near the show’s conclusion.Wiggles fan Grace Jones, who happened to be a nurse, was in the audience and quickly identified the musician was suffering from a cardiac arrest. She performed CPR and gave Page three shocks from the publicly available AED at Castle Hill RSL before an ambulance arrived.Paramedic Brian Parcell, who worked on Page as he was taken to hospital, said he would not be alive if it weren’t for the efforts of those who performed CPR.Following his recovery, Page founded Heart of the Nation, an initiative that educates organisations and individuals on the importance of having AEDs on-site and accessible when needed.Heart of the Nation promotes the “Chain of Survival”, which consists of three vital links – call triple-0, perform CPR and find an AED.“Heart of the Nation acknowledges the huge problem that is felt across Australia by sudden cardiac arrest,” Page told news.com.au. “It is a huge burden to us each and every year.“What a lot of people may not realise is that it affects people of all ages – even those who are seemingly fit and otherwise healthy in appearance.“The community needs to be prepared to respond to save a life, no matter where or when sudden cardiac arrest strikes. Having the skills (CPR) and tools (an AED) available can make a huge difference to someone’s chances of survival. “People who are playing sport and are predisposed to a cardiac arrest for whatever reason, they rely upon teammates, officials, members of the crowd to know what to do to give them the best chance of survival.”CPR courses that teach how to perform compressions and help identify symptoms of cardiac arrest are currently available online, but only about 22 per cent of the Australian population is trained in CPR.“Taking that short course for as little as $50 can literally be the difference for someone’s life,” Amato said. “If you can do anything to save a loved one, then you might as well do it.“When you consider how dismal the survival rate is for out of hospital cardiac arrest, it’s something that can be improved massively by not doing too much at all.“To any young person out there who’s in their 20s or 30s thinking they’re invincible, you surely are not. Anything can happen at any time, so don’t ever take a day for granted.”You can book a CPR course directly with the Australian Red Cross here.