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My Heart Story by Janice de Jager

My story began in the early afternoon of Saturday, November 24, 2018. That day I had my regular stall at the Moruya Country Market, and was packing my car ready to drive home.

A fellow stallholder came over and asked how my morning had been. Apparently I said that it had been a bit slow, and then I collapsed, turning blue. Poor Kenny (the stallholder) naturally got the shock of his life – he took a while to recover, and when I returned to the market a couple of months later, was always asking how I was!

I have absolutely no memory of any of what happened beyond packing my car. The story from then until I woke the next day in Canberra Hospital ICU comes from those who were there and helped me survive.

So, as I was talking to Kenny and collapsing, a woman was driving by. She saw me go down and immediately stopped her car, ran over and began to give CPR. A call for assistance must have gone out, as a local GP who was visiting the market ran to assist with CPR, together with a friend who was with her. The GP phoned her husband (also a GP) who was on duty at Moruya Hospital that day. He was able to call in a local doctor to be ready in Emergency when I arrived. My neighbouring stallholder gave me mouth to mouth and when CPR was in play, ran to the nearby local swimming pool for a defibrillator.

On duty was a 17year old young man who had just finished high school and was working at the pool in readiness for university, hoping he would be accepted to study as a paramedic! The plot thickens and everything seems to come together like magic! The young man’s supervisor had just gone to lunch and told him that he would only be an hour, nothing would happen!!! This young man rose to the occasion, raced over and began to defibrillate me. His action, together with the CPR saved my life as I was later to be told.

As a footnote to this part of my story, the young man in question did not make the intake for paramedics, so then chose science, planning to apply for a transfer in his second year. When all the applications had been received, he was reviewed and did indeed make the paramedic course at Bathurst university – it was fate!

Ambulances arrived and they later told me in was indeed a miracle that I survived as most cardiac arrests do not make it. Without the immediate CPR and defibrillation by members of the public (and GP) I would have died on the spot. The ambulance rushed me to Moruya Hospital, where I spent approximately seven hours in Emergency being stabilized enough to fly by helicopter to Canberra Hospital.

My only helicopter flight and I missed the whole experience…

I woke up in ICU sometime the next morning to find my husband Jeff beside my bed. Poor Jeff had the trauma of a phonecall from the market to say what had happened to me, then the rush to Moruya Hospital, notifying his daughter, who called my sister. They stayed by my side in Emergency and when I left for Canberra it was after dark. Jeff drove there in the dark, not knowing how I was. Luckily the patient/carer accommodation have an emergency contact in such situations, so Jeff could have a bed that night – what will happen when the hospital demolishes the old nurses quarters for an extension to the hospital? I hope fresh accommodation will be ready for those of us who travel to Canberra for treatment. My stepdaughter Alexis moved into our home to care for our dog and cat for the duration of my care. Family – where would we be without them!

When I woke up, Jeff was afraid I may not recognize him, and was vastly relieved when I squeezed his hand and called him Jeff! I stayed in ICU for four days before a move to the Cardiac Care Ward. The staff there were amazing. Nothing was too much for them. Apart from the expert medical care, one of the nurses braided my hair and braided the hair of the lady in the bed next to me. Each shift they came around and made us feel like a little family – the group of patients in my ward and the nurses who cared for us, many of whom have come from the Philippines for nursing training.

Dr Rajeev Pathak introduced himself as my cardiologist and explained that he would be fitting a state of the art CRT-D to assist my heart muscle. He told me that my heart muscle had simply decided to stop that day with no warning and that it was a result of chemotherapy I received in the mid 1990’s for breast cancer. I was to discover that this is emerging more in long term survivors as chemotherapy then was not as targeted as it is now.

Nonetheless, at the time of my cancer, I simply wanted to survive. I am blessed to be here and to have this second chance at life!

The CRT-D had only gone onto Medicare recently and came with a home communicator beside my bed to monitor the device as I slept! Dr Pathak explained everything to me and patiently answered any questions I had. He never seemed rushed and I felt I was his only patient, that is how personal his manner was.

After an angiogram to ensure my arteries were all clear, I had the CRT-D fitted on December 5. There was a small complication during surgery and I needed to stay in hospital to clear a pneumothorax before discharge. The whole time I was in Canberra Hospital from ICU to Coronary Care to a regular ward, the care was superb!

Finally on December 10 I was cleared to go home and the only downside was the long wait in Discharge for my paperwork and prescriptions. Then it was out in the fresh air and on the way down the mountain. A stop in Bungendore for one of those famous muffins and a real coffee. Sadly I struggled to finish the muffin and had to take a “doggie bag”.

A little hiccup of being lightheaded and almost passing out at home saw me back in Moruya Hospital on 11/12 for a couple of days observation and to adjust my medication in consultation with the cardiac team in Canberra.

Since then, I have seen my local GP, had my device tested and a review with Dr Pathak at the end of January this year.  He will see me again on August 1, then annually. I am back at my market stall and have personally thanked all those who helped me back on the day my heart stopped. Lots of hugs and gifts to say thank you. Everyone says how good I look, seemingly surprised. I smile.

A referral to Moruya Hospital Cardiac Rehab team saw me undergo a six week program with them in February/March. This included a group session with a dietician, psychologist, nurse, occupational therapist, pharmacist and social worker. I felt I graduated with my life in front of me waiting to be lived!

Now, six months after my CRT-D was fitted, I am one day away from being able to drive again – that has been a challenge to lose my independence. I am blessed with a wonderful husband who has always been there for me, including driving me wherever I wanted to go these past six months. Family, friends and all the medical profession have my eternal gratitude because without them I would not be here to tell my heart story…

Janice de Jager. June 5, 2019

My story continued…

It has now been a year since my “attention seeking behavior” as Jeff amusingly refers to my cardiac arrest.

I have seen Dr Pathak in August at the Canberra Hospital, and again at the end of November in his new rooms, Canberra Heart Rhythm in the Garran Medical Centre. Now that Dr Pathak has taken me on as a private patient, my CRT-D home monitoring is able to be fed directly to him. This was not able to be funded through the public health system. This gives both Jeff and I confidence in the support I will need into the future.

I take a list of questions to my appointments with Dr Pathak, and yet somehow he is able to answer each of my questions before I ask them! I know I am in good hands and so enjoy each day of my new life.

It was wonderful to finally get behind the wheel of my little flower car and drive on my own. To have my independence back. I can even put up with the paperwork now needed annually to maintain my licence. Life is good.


Janice de Jager, December 11, 2019.