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Survivor's story a heartfelt warning

Date

Carolyn Webb

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At the age of 43, Jeff Waters nearly died. Of a heart attack. But he reckons now it was just as much from stupidity.

Going to bed two years ago in his Melbourne house, the ABC journalist felt pain across his chest and down his left arm. He was short of breath, sweaty and clammy.

His wife, Fiona, a GP, diagnosed a heart attack and went to call triple-0.

''Don't be ridiculous, what will we do with the children?'' was Waters' response. ''I'm not calling the ambulance for a panic attack.''

It was ''the most stupid thing of my life,'' he writes in his new book, Every Beat of My Heart, of the blithe denial.

In fact, he was having a massive cardiac arrest from a fatty blockage in an artery in his heart. He blacked out and for 56 minutes had an arrhythmic heartbeat and hardly any pulse.

Daughter Zoe, then 7, watched as his wife performed CPR and within seven minutes, paramedics arrived and used defibrillators, adrenaline and oxygen to successfully shock Jeff's heart back into rhythm.

Today, after a long, bumpy journey back to health, Waters wants to alert others to the risks.

The Heart Foundation says 55,000 Australians suffer a heart attack annually, and 10,000 of those die.

During the 2009/2010 financial year, more than 2000 Australian men aged 35 to 44 were hospitalised for heart attacks.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows 84 men in this age group died from a heart attack in the 2009 calendar year.

Waters told The Age many people ignore symptoms because they think it's indigestion, or they don't want to pay for an ambulance. Some men think they're invincible.

''If I could say one thing, it's learn the warning signs [online at heartattackfacts.org.au] and call an ambulance.

''It can happen to you, so bloody learn about it.''

Waters had normal cholesterol and blood pressure. But one year later, an uncle survived a heart attack.

And Waters lived his life at a cracking pace. ''I always needed to be busy,'' he says.

He was, and is, a senior ABC TV and radio journalist. He has reported from 25 countries and wrote a 2008 book on an Aboriginal death in custody.

Outside of work Waters used to drink up to half a bottle of wine most nights, was a ''social smoker'', and hated exercise.

For three years he would spend up to 10 hours on a weekend day renovating his home.

Cooking was another obsession. He'd make dinner after work and sometimes stayed up to 10pm creating complex future meals for future dinner parties.

Fiona Waters says that at barbecues, ''he couldn't just get some steaks and sausages and bung them on, he'd do elaborate starters, a three-layered terrine … salads, pork rillettes, smoked trout.''

Today, after four hospital admissions, rehabilitation and a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder, Waters says he's learned to ''slow down, stop stressing about day-to-day stuff, there are more important things''.

He rides a bicycle most nights and does yoga. He drinks and cooks a lot less and vows to call a tradesman for future renovations.

''I'm a lot calmer, I used to be much more hyped up. I can lie down all day and be quite happy about it,'' he says.''

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