But there’s a $2,500 device saving Aussie golfers – and it could be the most important piece of equipment your golf club ever purchases.
It’s two weeks out from Christmas and Scott Bridges is enjoying another round of golf at Long Reef Golf Club on Sydney’s northern beaches. The sun was shining, nearby waves could be heard crashing, and the stiff sea breeze sweeping in off the shores of Collaroy was providing its usual challenges for golfers young and old. Nothing out of the ordinary, at least not for the friendly folk at ‘Longy’.
It was about 9am when Bridges putted out on the fifth green. He didn’t know it at the time, but the professional lifeguard from just up the road at Newport Surf Life Saving Club was about to – quite literally – turn lifesaver on the sixth green.
While waiting for the putting surface to clear on the driveable 267-metre par 4, Bridges noticed a player in the group ahead had collapsed on the ground. Immediately sensing trouble, Bridges rushed ahead to offer some assistance. What he saw on arrival was an unconscious man, showing signs of laboured breathing and a sporadic heartbeat. With his own adrenaline now pumping, Bridges’ training kicked in. As his playing partners called for an ambulance, club greenkeeper Justin Michael, who noticed the commotion, phoned the clubhouse to request the club’s defibrillator be raced out.
Then, the worst possible scenario became reality: the man stopped breathing. He was now suffering a sudden cardiac arrest, and Bridges knew he had to commence CPR immediately. With the help of the patient’s friends, Bridges repeated CPR for six cycles. Still there was no breathing and no sign of an ambulance. Then the club’s defib machine arrived. Bridges turned it on, strapped the pads to the patient’s chest as per the instructions, and the device took over proceedings, guiding Bridges with clear audio commands as it went about automatically detecting critical signs of life.
“Using the Heart180 defib couldn’t have been simpler,” recalls Bridges in conversation with its brainchild, former ironman champion Guy Leech. “It starts talking to you, the pads have maps on the back of them that show you exactly where to put them on the patient, and you just listen to the machine as it instructs you.”
Sensors in the pads checked for a rhythm in the patient’s heartbeat before telling Bridges to “stand back” as it was “preparing to shock”.
“The guy jumped so I knew the electrical shock had worked, but he still wasn’t breathing,” Bridges says.
The defib then automatically reassessed the patient’s heart rhythm a second time, telling Bridges to continue CPR before applying another electrical shot when it determined the time was right.
And just like that the patient started breathing again. “The second one did the trick,” Bridges says. “It got his heart started.”
It saved his life is what it did… right there on the turf of Long Reef’s sixth green.
To everyone’s relief, an ambulance soon arrived and stabilised the patient before transporting him to hospital where he was treated and later released to go on and make a full recovery.
“When I saw him breathing again it was a pretty crazy feeling,” Bridges says.
This golfer survived to tell the tale of what would have been his final putt if not for the swift action taken by fellow members and – critically – Long Reef Golf Club’s decision to have a defibrillator on site.
A cause for concern
The numbers should shock you long before a defibrillator has to.
Sudden cardiac arrest is the single largest cause of death in Australia. A staggering 30,000 people die from it every year. That’s 600 a week. Almost 100 a day. Many of whom are golfers just like you.
“Take the guy at Long Reef Golf Club… if that happens anywhere else, there’s a good chance he’s no longer with us,” says Leech, a former two-time world champion in his craft.
“Without a defibrillator, you have about a 6 percent chance of surviving. With a defibrillator, applied within three minutes of the sudden cardiac arrest, that survival rate jumps up to as high as 90 percent. As the bloke at Long Reef Golf Club can now attest, they’re the odds we should all be playing with.
“Luckily for him, he took a turn in front of a lifesaver trained in CPR, in an environment equipped with a device purposely designed to keep him alive.”
So what odds are Aussie golfers actually playing with? Of the 1,500-plus golf facilities in Australia, how many have a defibrillator on site in case of an emergency like Long Reef’s?
“I reckon 20 percent at best,” says Leech, a man well versed on his numbers through his company Heart180 and its mission to get a defibrillator within 180 seconds of every Australian (more on that later).
Yep, 20 percent. That’s just one in every five clubs in the country, all of which cater for memberships largely made up of an over-40 demographic – many of whom may have pre-existing cardiovascular concerns – that regularly take on the metabolic demand of pulling buggies over undulating terrain in the harsh Australian climate. Frightening.
“What’s even scarier is you would be surprised how often golfers in this country have heart problems out on the course, or even drop dead,” Leech adds. “We just don’t hear about it because it doesn’t make great PR for the course. Think about it: a 65-year-old bloke who’s not that fit, walks up a rise pulling his clubs and has a heart issue he may not know about – the chances of something going wrong are more exposed.
“When you increase your heart rate by walking up hilly terrain, you open yourself up to problems. It’s why every golf course in the country should have a defibrillator [below] in the clubhouse or out on the course somewhere. Imagine missing that two-foot putt and cracking the shits – you don’t want that to be the last thing you ever do but, sadly, that’s what can happen in the blink of an eye.”
Of even greater concern for a lot of golf clubs, according to Leech, is their location, particularly in congested areas where ambulance response times fall well past the “180-second” target. In a recent report by Seven News, it was revealed New South Wales ambulance response times were among the slowest in the country, with the average response time for code-one emergencies like cardiac arrest in 2018/’19 being 24 minutes. Tasmania, home to those undulating, otherworldly golf courses at Barnbougle Dunes and King Island, was even worse. Have a serious fault with your ticker there and you can expect to wait 29.2 minutes for help, according to the Productivity Commission report released in January referenced by Seven News.
Ambulances in Sydney also had the slowest capital-city response time for code-one emergencies, with patients waiting 21.3 minutes in 2018/’19. By comparison, Perth recorded the fastest capital-city wait time at 14.7 minutes.
What’s clear is the slower traffic and higher density living of Australia’s CBD areas make navigating the streets extremely difficult for paramedics. Add limited access to particular areas of a golf course and it’s a recipe for disaster if your heart decides to kick it in.
“You can only imagine how long it would take in some regional areas given the distance ambulances have to travel to get to the golf course,” Leech says.
“Golf clubs need to understand that for every minute that passes after that initial three minutes of sudden cardiac arrest, the patient has a 10 percent less chance of survival.” – Guy Leech
“That patient could be your regular Tuesday morning playing partner, your husband or wife, or even you.”
It’s time to take the smoke-alarm approach
A defibrillator has just as much place in your home as a smoke alarm, says leading cardiologist Geoff W. Holt.
“Cardiac arrests kill more Aussies in a day than fire does in a year,” he says. “The awareness around fire in Australia is fantastic, and rightly so. We all have smoke alarms and fire extinguishers installed at home and at work. But when it comes to heart health, we still don’t realise how proactive we can be to give ourselves the best chance of surviving. Quite simply, a defibrillator can save your life, and it’s the same price as your TV.”
Of course, it’s important to know a cardiac arrest when you see one. A cardiac arrest is not a heart attack. It’s far more unpredictable and can happen to anyone, at any age. When you have a cardiac arrest, your whole heart stops. It’s an electrical failure. This means CPR isn’t effective on its own. You will need the electrical charge of a defibrillator to restart your heart. While cardiac arrest can be caused by heart conditions, it can also be triggered by trauma, such as a fall or car accident, breathing conditions and allergic reactions. Sometimes there is no identifiable cause.
Naturally, people not familiar with defibs – Automated External Defibrillator (AED) – probably assume they’re for medical experts only, sparking traumatic images of nurses violently shocking patients in an ER theatre. Truth is, they’re anything but. Defibrillators are not dangerous to use. In fact, they are very safe.
“All the defibrillators we sell are designed to save lives and won’t actually function on someone who is alive,” Leech says. “You can’t hurt anyone with these machines as they only activate an electrical shock when they detect life-threatening rhythm disturbance.”
Turning tragedy into an ongoing triumph
Leech thought he knew everything there was to know about cardiovascular health. He was, after all, a champion ironman once dubbed “Australia’s Fittest Athlete” by the Australian Institute of Sport. His heart was the engine that powered him to the very top of the fitness world. But his life was turned upside down in 2016 when one of his best mates died of cardiac arrest during one of his training sessions. Leech had started up an ocean paddle group across Sydney and was due to catch up with friend and fellow group member Charles ‘Chucky’ Stewart afterwards when Chucky collapsed shortly after exiting the water in Manly Harbour. By the time Leech arrived on the scene and realised who it was, five minutes had passed. Leech and others continued CPR on the Channel Nine TV producer for another five minutes before an ambulance arrived and managed to get a faint heartbeat after three shocks with a defibrillator. But critical time had elapsed, and a lack of oxygen had damaged Stewart’s brain. He would later pass away in hospital, leaving Leech in total disbelief.
“I didn’t know and couldn’t believe that me pumping my mate’s chest at the end of a training session wasn’t going to be enough to get him back,” Leech recalled while walking the fairways of Terrey Hills Golf & Country Club where he is an active member. “With all my experience and background in ironman and lifesaving, I didn’t know how important it was to get a defib on someone within three minutes, or 180 seconds.
“So that’s how I got started doing this whole thing. A tragedy has spurred me on to make sure no one else has to endure the same circumstances.”
To follow through on his promise, Leech became a major distributor of Stryker Corporation – an $80 billion Fortune 500 medical technologies firm that services a large chunk of the world’s defib market.
Through his website – Heart180.com.au – Leech is filling in his days supplying defib machines to people and businesses across the country. “We’ve made a real effort to build an effective online training course so people understand how the machines work and why they’re so critical when it comes to saving someone’s life,” he says.
“When an emergency situation arises, we want people to be able to act quickly and competently. There’s no point having a defib if no one wants to put it into action. Our units have got to a point where they’re that user-friendly you’d be comfortable with anyone using it on you to save your life.”
As was the case with former Yellow Wiggle Greg Page, who went into cardiac arrest while performing a reunion concert in January. “The defib that saved Greg Page gives you guidance, much like a golf coach following you around giving you feedback on each shot. It tells you how hard to push on your compressions and guides you through the whole process. Ultimately, it’s what saved Greg’s life and it can save yours too.”
Heart180 defibs have been sold in the thousands and have already saved countless lives – including a 21-year-old girl who collapsed in a gym. “I get a call every seven weeks telling me someone has been revived,” Leech says. But it’s the continued oversight by sporting clubs that frustrates the 56-year-old, financial gain aside as a key distributor. “This isn’t about money; it’s about saving lives. It’s the biggest killer in the country. More than 100 people will die today from this bloody thing, but we’ve got a solution here and all it costs is two-and-a-half grand,” he says.
“What’s a life worth? Well, I can tell you it’s worth about $2,500 and you can do something about it. It takes about 15 minutes to do my online course, the defibs are dummy-proof and it will empower you to save your mate’s life. Even smaller clubs can afford one. If every golf club held a ‘heart month’ and donated a dollar or two from every green fee or food and beverage purchase, there’s your defib paid for and lives potentially saved.”
Leech was showered in plenty of glory during his competitive heyday. From Coolangatta to Queenscliff, he hit superstardom during the ’80s as the blond-haired pin-up boy of Australian surf. But he says all that pales in comparison to bringing somebody back from the dead.
“Don’t get me wrong, winning ironman titles gave me a tremendous buzz. But nothing, nothing will ever trump the feeling of saving somebody’s life,” Leech says.
“I often think about that saying in golf, ‘make every shot count’. But I want golfers to go one step further than that and make sure their next shot isn’t their last. I want them to really understand that, on and off the course, every beat counts.”