Cardiac Arrest aged 47

Cardiac Arrest aged 47

On 23rd February 2019 I was competing in the Rottnest Channel Swim (Western Australia). This is a 19.7km open water swimming event. I was competing in a duo i.e. you rotate time in and out of the water. I had done the event in a group of 4 six times and was keen to do something a bit more challenging. My partner and I swim all year round and train in the pool and the ocean. We were both very fit and well prepared. I have no memory of the swim at all but my crew reports that about 1/2 way through the event I started to talk about "not feeling right". They checked for the usual concerns in open water swimming - especially hypothermia but my symptoms did not match. At the 16km point my team rested me and let my partner swim. The final 500m of the swim is usually done together so that you can cross the line and celebrate. This is what we did on the day. The report from the surf life saver who was one of my "first responders" was that I approached him on his board 150m from the finish line. He informed me that if I touched his board I would be disqualified from the event. I said "I need help" and then started seizing. He radioed for backup and an Inflatable Rescue Boat came from 400m away. The two surf life savers pulled me from the water and in the small boat started CPR. Apparently my skin was grey. They raced to shore to get me to the medical tent. Luckily for me there was an overlap of medical crew (they were due to change shifts) and there was also a Consultant Anaesthetist on shore who had just finished the swim. Essentially I had three times the amount of specialist medical personnel than what would normally be available. Also luckily for me one of the specialists had brought his own equipment that helped clear my airway as well as a manual defibrillator. This was crucial as the AED on site could not shock me as I was asystole. My lungs were full of water and it appears that the cardiac arrest was secondary to respiratory arrest. The crew worked on me and managed to get a pulse. I was helicoptered in to a tertiary hospital and put into an induced coma. After 3 days I was able to come out of the coma. My vocal cords were damaged, my ribs & sternum cracked and bruised but other than that I had no other impairment. I had every cardiac check available and there was no evidence of underlying electrical or structural problem with my heart. I did have very low blood sugar at the time of resus (1.3) and I think things started going wrong due to exercise induced hypoglycaemia i.e. swimming hard and also burning extra energy adjusting body temperature from in the water to out of the water. I am assuming this resulted in me having a brief blackout and filling my lungs with water (respiratory arrest).
As I have no memory of the swim at all it all feels a bit surreal. My family members were very traumatised by the whole event and that is probably the longest lasting impact of all.
I am back swim training regularly, playing netball, running but I have had to agree to no more open water events to spare my family further anxiety.

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