Dead for eight minutes: Garry Jack’s miracle
Rugby League legend Garry Jack has gone public with his "miracle second chance" after surviving a massive cardiac arrest that left him clinically dead.
An unconscious Jack turned grey, was lifeless and considered 'gone' after collapsing without warning just five-minutes into a jiu jitsu training session seven weeks ago.
"I had never had any heart issues, pain in my chest or in my arms, nothing,'' Jack said.
"The next thing, I'm unconscious, fighting for my life.''
In harrowing detail, Jack has revealed he "somehow" avoided permanent brain damage from the trauma that left him without a pulse for a normally fatal eight minutes.
The cardiac arrest was triggered by a 100 per cent blockage in Jack's left main artery - a condition referred to as the "widow-maker".
Jack, who will celebrate his 60th birthday on Sunday, decided to tell his story in detail to pay tribute to the mates and paramedics who saved him, and to make a passionate call for CPR training to be included in the school curriculum and greater awareness for regular heart checks.
It was a hot 34C summer day on Friday, January 22 this year, when Jack walked into the same Castle Hill Showground pavilion he has trained at for the past 20-years.
The former Balmain Tigers, NSW State of Origin and Test fullback is a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu.
"I'd just finished a five-lap warm-up of the room and (head coach) Simon (Farnsworth) told the class to grab a partner,'' Jack said. "I stood next to my partner and then that's all I remember. I don't remember anything after that."
Farnsworth is now recognised as the man to whom Jack owes his life.
"I heard an almighty moan and I knew it was Gaz's voice,'' Farnsworth said.
"As I looked over at him, I could see him falling. Luckily, he was near the edge of the crash mat on the floor and that's what his head hit.
"I put him in the recovery position and I was just yelling out "Gaz, Gaz" and shaking him.
"The colour of his face was strange. He went white and then grey, so I knew there was something dramatically wrong.
"Then all of a sudden he tried to violently turn to his belly and I saw his lips start to go blue.
"Two other instructors were beside me and I said, I'm commencing CPR.
"I yelled at someone to dial Triple-0. And then I remember in that moment that we had a defibrillator machine.
"I screamed out to get the 'defib' and I'm pumping away on his chest and in the meantime, I think he's gone.
"He looked lifeless and there wasn't a heartbeat or a pulse.
"I think all of us thought … you know … that we may have lost him … or did lose him."
After eight minutes of CPR and without any sign of life from Jack, Farnsworth was in the act of applying the defibrillator when the sound of ambulance sirens outside the showground could be heard.
NSW Ambulance Inspector Kevin McSweeney was a member of the response team that found a lifeless Jack.
"100 per cent Simon's CPR training contributed to Garry still being here, but so too did the actions of all of Garry's mates who led us to where he was inside the pavilion,'' McSweeney said.
"When Simon says, he thinks Garry was gone, well, he was.
"Because when you have a cardiac arrest, you're not breathing, you have no pulse and your heart's not beating.
"So unless someone starts to do CPR, you can't wake up from a cardiac arrest on your own. Someone has to do CPR. Someone has to defiilerate you, otherwise you're dead.
"It's as simple as that. So Garry's mates, they saved his life. We had work to do. But if that wasn't done before we got there, then the chances of survival were really poor.
"And if it goes up to ten minutes (without a pulse), then there's basically no chance of survival. So you can't underestimate what everyone did. The survival rate from cardiac arrest out of hospital is lower than nine per cent. He's a miracle.''
McSweeney and the team of paramedics were able to "shock" Jack's heart to the point of raising a faint pulse with a defibrillator.
Jack's wife Donna - a registered nurse - had hurried to the scene but, as her unconscious husband was taken to Liverpool Hospital by ambulance was too distraught to follow in her car, so McSweeney ferried her there.
In an extremely uncommon occurrence, Jack regained consciousness just as the ambulance approached the hospital.
After a series of urgent tests, he was stabilised in intensive care. The one-time champion fullback woke from medicated sleep the next morning with his middle son, Rhys, 31, holding his hand.
Jack said his two other sons, former Sydney Swans star Kieran and youngest son Brandon, were both informed of their father's dire health scare despite the family's painful and very public rift.
Two 60-millimeter stents were inserted to open up the blockage in his artery and a defibrillator implanted in his chest which monitors the rhythm of his heart.
As he lay in the recovery ward, Jack was cognisant to how fortunate he was to be alive - largely due to the actions of those closest to him.
"The professor in the hospital said to me that commencing CPR on anyone in those first three minutes is critical,'' Jack said.
"Because every minute after that, brain damage becomes a factor and that was the biggest concern when I arrived at hospital.
"It's that flow of oxygen getting to your brain that is imperative.''
As he held Rhys' hand, Jack wiped tears from his face in the realisation that he would be able to attend Rhys' wedding to his partner, Australian TV actress, Kat Hoyos, last Saturday.
"I've been emotional ever since it all, but I held it together during my father-of-the-groom speech,'' Jack said.
"To be there, given how incredible Rhys has been throughout this, I honestly couldn't believe I'd made it.
"Lying in hospital, that's all I kept saying to myself, 'I've got to make it to the wedding'.
"I'm just so lucky."
Sitting at his kitchen table for our interview, Jack is animated and holds the smile of a man who freely admits "listening to his favourite 1980s rock music has never sounded better and the simple act of going to his local cafe' makes him so happy.'
Jack played rugby league at the highest level for 16-seasons and was much-loved by Tigers fans as their fullback who played without fear and with endearing toughness for his size.
But now, just as he turns 60, Jack wants the greatest victory of his life to act as a warning to others - and by doing so, is determined to help lower the 33,000 number of out of hospital cardiac arrests that occur each year in Australia.
"Thank you will never be enough for what Simon did for me - he just never gave up on me. I love him,'' Jack said.
"I'm very lucky. As Kev said, it's not a case of was I gone? It's a case of, I was gone.
"I have a history of heart problems in my family, but that's why I have been going to a cardiologist for the past three years - and each result was clear and better than the one before.
"I had no symptoms, I was fit and healthy. I watch what I eat, watch what I drink, I don't abuse myself.
"But here's what we all have to do. You have to see a good cardiologist regularly and have an angiogram, which is the best way of picking up any blockages.
"And CPR should be mandatory for all. Start at school level with annual lessons and retraining for all at every workplace.
"This could happen anywhere, in a shopping centre and that bystander who knows CPR, might just save your life.
"I'm standing here because of a second chance.
"I shouldn't have to be the only lucky one."
Originally published as Dead for eight minutes: Garry Jack's miracle