Gerringong heart attack survivor an ambassador for National Wear Red Day

Determination: After a massive heart attack Matt Shields (right) worked hard to get back into action, eventually taking part in the gruelling Pioneer Mountain Bike Race in New Zealand. On National Wear Red Day on February 14, he's urging others to support the work of Heart Research Australia. Picture: Supplied
Determination: After a massive heart attack Matt Shields (right) worked hard to get back into action, eventually taking part in the gruelling Pioneer Mountain Bike Race in New Zealand. On National Wear Red Day on February 14, he's urging others to support the work of Heart Research Australia. Picture: Supplied

On the operating table after a massive heart attack, Gerringong's Matt Shields watched on screen as surgeons inserted a stent through his arm and into a blocked artery to save his life.

It was an "out-of-body experience" and one that changed the now 44-year-old's whole outlook on life.

An ambassador for Heart Research Australia's Wear Red Day, on February 14, Mr Shields said he was in the midst of his usual 15km run to work when a sudden "shot gun" pain in his chest stopped him in his tracks.

He managed to call Triple Zero and paramedics took his ECG in the ambulance and sent the result to Royal North Shore Hospital, where a team was waiting to rush him to surgery.

"I was completely conscious in theatre, watching my heart on the screen being injected with a contrasting agent through the radial artery. It was supposed to be like a big beautiful piece of coral, but it was all black.

It was supposed to be like a big beautiful piece of coral, but it was all black.

Heart attack survivor, Matt Shields

"It was like an out-of-body experience, watching them insert the stent into the LAD (left anterior descending) coronary artery which was 100 per cent blocked.

"As soon as the balloon was in and expanded, the pain immediately went away, and then I realised I was probably going to be okay."

Heart disease is the biggest cause of Australian deaths, killing one Australian every 29 minutes - that's 50 people every single day.

Mr Shields knew he was lucky to be alive - with the type of heart attack he suffered known as a "widowmaker" - yet there was more bad news to come.

Extremely active, at the time of the heart attack in July 2016 he'd been training for the World Rogaining Championships. Yet his life was about to change.

"My survival was a miracle but the hardest part for me was the talk from the doctors the next morning," he said. "They told me life was going to be very different - I'd be on medication for life, have limited heart capacity, and not be able to run or compete again."

Mr Shields made some changes, moving permanently to Gerringong and switching roles within the CSIRO - from the area of space science to medical science.

He now creates software to track medical implants, and shares his journey with heart disease to raise awareness and funds for Heart Research Australia.

The stent procedure, as well the technology used in the ambulance to transmit results to the hospital, are both available due to research breakthroughs funded by the organisation.

And through careful planning and perseverance, Mr Shields has been able to work with his cardiologist to get back into action. He even safely competing in a six-day Pioneer Mountain Bike Race in New Zealand in November 2018.

"It's not an easy journey after having a heart attack," he said. "But as an ambassador for Heart Research Australia, I share my story to show that you can go out and achieve your goals afterwards."

He's urging locals to join The Man Walk, in Kiama and Gerringong, to raise awareness on National Wear Red Day.

And that day, together with a team of riders, he'll do a practice run of the L'Etape du Tour ahead of the cycling race in Kiama this November.

To donate to the cause visit wearredday.everydayhero.com/au/epichearts

This story Heart attack survivor's 'surreal' experience undergoing life-saving procedure first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.