The blokes got him on the ground and I started doing very fast chest compressions. His friend cleared the airway and Alice called 000. Alistair was already blue. I was doing the compressions as hard as I could, but thinking, “How is this ever going to work?” I felt very desperate. It’s horrendous, really. Nothing can prepare you for the shock of it.
He was taken to Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital and a stent was put in. I thought, “All right, he should be okay.” But he then went into cardiogenic shock and his heart shut down. He had a series of complications, had bled into his chest and needed an operation to remove the fluid. He had a 5 per cent chance of surviving with his brain intact. Before the operation, Freddie said, “We should say goodbye because Dad may not come out of this.” It was a poignant thing to think of at the time. I was in a dissociative state.
I was doing the compressions on Alistair as hard as I could, but thinking, ‘How is this ever going to work?’
Alistair was unconscious for 10 days. That whole time was very dire. Some time after they lifted his sedation, Al said, “Hello, precious”, to me. It was like those things that you are longing to hear, and you think you’ll never hear them again, then suddenly you do.
Our friends were horrified by what happened to Alistair, so a doctor friend organised a session on CPR for us all. That’s why Al knew what to do for me. Those compressions, and of course the expert medical treatment we had, can really help save a life.
Before having my heart attack, I was fearless and pushed myself a lot. I’d done Point Lonsdale’s 1.4-kilometre Rip View Swim Classic at least three times and had swum longer distances. Now I’m more careful. Since Alistair’s heart attack, we’ve seen two children married and five grandchildren arrive. The experience drew us closer. My time with Al now is bonus time. It’s very special having him still here.
ALISTAIR: Scottish John won the Grand National Steeplechase at about 25 to 1. I had half an idea my parents might be at the races and, lo and behold, I spotted them and introduced Fran to them. That was the start of it.
Fran was obviously a good student. Conscientiousness was her main quality. It appealed to me. I didn’t study as hard as I should have. I allowed myself to get completely diverted by having Fran as a girlfriend and everything else that went on at college.
When I came out of the sedation in hospital, Fran said to me, quite factually, ‘You’re in The Alfred. You’ve had a heart attack.’
Fran can’t disguise what she thinks. If she’s frustrated by something, she’ll say so. She doesn’t play by the rules in that regard. This is a feature I like about her. She’s also not into small talk. When I came out of the sedation in hospital, Fran said to me, quite factually, “You’re in The Alfred. You’ve had a heart attack.”
Once I learnt what happened, I realised what a traumatic and stressful experience it was for the whole family. Fran managed the whole thing. It was the strongest example in 50-odd years of knowing her of how furiously loyal she was to me and absolutely dedicated to doing everything she could to help me. I wouldn’t have expected anything less of her. One of her strongest characteristics is her utter reliability.
Fran had her heart attack in 2017. She had finished the Point Lonsdale ocean swim race and was shivering and quite cold. I didn’t twig as to anything particularly unusual. We got to the holiday house and she went to lie down. Henry went upstairs to bring her water and yelled out to me. I rushed up and saw her out to it on the bed. You wouldn’t have imagined a healthy and physically active person could have collapsed in this way, with restricted arteries and cardiac arrest.
I delivered CPR to Fran. Doing the CPR course was critical for me knowing what to do. Henry and I shared the compressions and my daughter-in-law called 000. When we paused to get Fran off the bed and on to the floor, she stopped breathing. When we started the compressions again, we could see air was being drawn into her lungs, so we knew we were on the right track.
Fran went to University Hospital Geelong and had a stent put in. I didn’t really sleep that night. Of course you think about losing your partner. You’re in a suspended state until you’ve got news, good or bad. They lifted the sedation the next morning and she started to regain consciousness and respond. I thought, “Well, we are in the clear.”
I’ve been very lucky to have Fran as a partner in life. We’ve got to this point with our family and we are still together. I don’t fear much about the future. We’ve been lucky already,