Brush with death – Heart attack survivor’s message for others

Three brushes with death within 24 hours has launched a new way of life for Macedon Ranges identity Tony Dixon.
The 64-year-old is now using his experience to urge others to recognise the signs of heart attack, learn CPR and save a life as part of Ambulance Victoria’s Shocktober Restart a Heart campaign.
Tony suffered a heart attack while driving along the Calder Freeway towards Woodend on September 11, and was lucky to have his granddaughter Mikayla, 13, in the car.
It was Mikayla who made the life-saving call to Triple Zero, gave clear directions to the operator and made sure Tony moved safely off the road.
“He looked very shaky and very pale. When he got out of the car he was unbalanced and grabbing at his chest,” Mikayla said.
“I knew I had to keep my head straight and give them the right information.”
Woodend paramedics Kester Starkey and Steve Reid said Mikayla’s precise details on location were vital in saving precious time in their response.
“We immediately recognised that Tony was critically unwell and was displaying the signs and symptoms of somebody having a heart attack,” Kester said.
“He had chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea and was sweating.”
The paramedics were authorised to administer thrombolytic agents to break up the clot in Tony’s arteries that was reducing blood supply to his heart muscle. It was a success but Tony then went into cardiac arrest.
“His heart stopped beating but we were able to use the defibrillator to re-start his heart,” Kester said.
“I remember Tony waking up and apologising. He said, ‘Sorry guys, I think I had a little bit of a snooze on you there’.”
Paramedics transported Tony to the Royal Melbourne Hospital where he was rushed into theatre for heart surgery. He suffered a further two heart attacks while on the operating table.
In the hours leading up to his heart attack, Tony experienced symptoms he wants to warn others to look out for.
He had woken up that morning with a burning sensation in his chest and initially brushed it off, suspecting he had breathed in a chemical while cleaning, but as the day progressed, so too did his discomfort.
“The burning was getting worse as I went on,” he said.
“Eventually it felt like someone had me in a massive bear-hug: at that point and it was a strangle.
“I knew I was in a bad situation. I was in trouble. But funnily enough, I was absolute denial that I was a having a heart attack. I wasn’t accepting that fact.
“I was fortunate that day to have a heart attack with people so close to me.”
Tony had been a smoker since the age of 16 but didn’t have any other obvious risk factors for cardiac arrest and heart attack such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history or obesity.
Since his health scare, he has given up cigarettes ‘cold turkey’ and is encouraging others to think about their health. He was 41 days smoke-free on Thursday.
“There are people that dedicate their life to learning how to save others and to come out of hospital and the first thing you do is to light a cigarette – honestly, where’s the respect?” Tony said.
“I think the best thing I can say to smokers is to quit smoking before smoking quits you.”
Tony’s eldest daughter Danielle said the whole family was proud of the way Tony had taken care of his health since returning home from hospital.
“Tony’s very lucky to still be with us today because the chances of survival from a cardiac arrest are one in 10,” Kester said.
“For every minute that someone is not receiving CPR their chance of survival decreases by 10 per cent, so it’s important that people learn. It bides times until someone can turn up and use a defibrillator to re-start the heart. It’s particularly important in regional areas when an ambulance may be up to 15 minutes away.”
Steve said it was important for people to call Triple Zero at the sign of a heart attack and know how to perform CPR and use an AED (defibrillator) if nearby.
Ambulance Victoria is urging people to be aware of where their nearest AEDs are. To learn more, visit
“Mikayla really saved her granddad that day. We told him he owes her a really good Christmas present,” Steve said.

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