Massive heart failure survivor Greg Messer recovers in Sunshine Coast University Hospital. Pictured, Greg Messer, left, and Queensland Ambulance Service clinical director Tony Hucker. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.
Massive heart failure survivor Greg Messer recovers in Sunshine Coast University Hospital. Pictured, Greg Messer, left, and Queensland Ambulance Service clinical director Tony Hucker. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.

‘My heart switched off’: 71yo triathlete’s incredible rescue

A surgeon dubbed ‘the electrician’ told Greg Messer it was an “easy one” as he wove a wire from his armpit, across his rib cage and into the centre of the 71-year-old’s heart.

Thirteen days ago Mr Messer’s life stopped, literally, when he said “the electrics switched off” as he came out of the shallows to end the swim leg of the Agnes Water Triathlon.

His heart simply stopped.

He collapsed and was dragged ashore by a fellow competitor.

His partner, Nicki Wellings, was watching it all unfold in front of her, having been trailing behind Greg in the swim leg.

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Mr Messer said the next thing he remembered was waking up in a rescue helicopter, and landing on the roof of Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

In between was a combination of quick-thinking, skill and sheer luck.

Lifesavers began administering CPR and “brought him back” three times with a defibrillator which was on the beach at the time.

Massive heart failure survivor Greg Messer recovers in SCUH. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.
Massive heart failure survivor Greg Messer recovers in SCUH. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.

An off-duty doctor happened to be nearby too, and was able to take charge.

At one stage he appeared to be coming back and was rolled onto his side to the recovery position, before he faded out again, this time sparking fresh hits with a defibrillator from Queensland Ambulance Service paramedics who’d rushed to the scene.

A few more shocks kept him alive before he was bundled into the helicopter and flown to Kawana with Nicki by his side.

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Despite feeling well enough to race another triathlon, the after-effects of the extended CPR efforts and multiple shocks from the defibrillator were being fully felt.

“I feel like I’ve done 14 rounds with Muhammad Ali to be honest with you,” Mr Messer said, adding he wasn’t game to laugh or cough yet.

“It was very distressing,” Ms Wellings said.

“I’m sure without the defibrillator he wouldn’t be here.”

Mr Messer was full of praise for the team at Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

“That’s an amazing facility,” he said.

“They did every test possible.”

Massive heart failure survivor Greg Messer recovers in SCUH. Pictured, fiancee Nicki Wellings and Greg Messer. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.
Massive heart failure survivor Greg Messer recovers in SCUH. Pictured, fiancee Nicki Wellings and Greg Messer. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.

The testing revealed a genetic defect which had caused his heart to stop, and he’d since been able to warn his children and his brother, so they could be tested themselves, potentially saving another life.

“I just felt like I was in really competent hands once I got in there,” he said.

The Hervey Bay local, who was headed home Friday, said there’d been no damage to his heart, with all the arteries intact, but doctors had told him he would be “pushing his luck” if he competed again.

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Instead he’ll stick to swimming and cycling, and coaching Nicki, who’d already been signed up for another triathlon next Sunday.

Lifesaving services co-ordinator for Wide Bay-Capricorn Branch in Bundaberg, Julie Davis, said there was no doubt without the defibrillator they “would’ve lost him”, no matter how many compressions they’d delivered.

“They’re a very, very handy tool,” she said.

Massive heart failure survivor Greg Messer recovers in Sunshine Coast University Hospital. Pictured, Tony Hucker, Greg Messer, Nicki Wellings, Shane Urba and Anthony Cassone. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.
Massive heart failure survivor Greg Messer recovers in Sunshine Coast University Hospital. Pictured, Tony Hucker, Greg Messer, Nicki Wellings, Shane Urba and Anthony Cassone. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.

This week marked SOS Week, Surf Life Saving Queensland’s annual fundraising week to ensure vital equipment, training and resources for volunteers.

Queensland Ambulance Service clinical director and Restart a Heart Day ambassador Tony Hucker said Friday, which doubled as Restart a Heart Day, was a “timely reminder that people are having cardiac arrests around this country every day”.

He encouraged people to undertake CPR training and find out where their nearest emergency defibrillator was located, as they were “so simple to use” and could make all the difference when someone goes into cardiac arrest.



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