If you’re going to have a heart attack, the best place to have it is an airport or sports stadium in a big city. Well, that’s what I was told after I had a heart attack at the Melbourne Airport on Sunday 11 October 2009.

What follows is a slightly edited version of the account I wrote in late November 2009 when the events of that day and the following days were still fresh in my mind. At the time, I entitled my story “My Mum’s a nurse. She knows what to do”. These words, spoken so calmly and confidently by a little boy who saw what was happening to me in the departure lounge at the Melbourne Airport that morning, still ring in my ears.

. . .

The drive from Williamstown to the Melbourne Airport on that brisk Sunday morning was quick and without incident. That is, until my wife Judy and I reached the airport precinct and tried to return the rental car. We followed the sign “Take right lane for parking and rental returns”.

But there were two right lanes, the first for parking, the second, further along, for rental car returns. “Oh, no! We are in the wrong lane!” cried Judy (who was driving). In response, while travelling at 70 km/h, she jumped the median strip and edged the car across two lanes of traffic to get into the correct lane. I’m sure one of us mentioned having a heart attack! That drive turned out to be really stressful. I know Judy was a lather of sweat when we eventually parked the car. At least we returned the car without any dints and scratches!

The rental car we used for our stay in Melbourne.
  • Save
The rental car we used during our initial two-week stay in Melbourne. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.

Our check-in was straightforward, thankfully. Even our hand luggage came in under weight. “We’ve made it. Car returned safely and we’re on our way home,” I thought. “Brisbane, here we come.” We headed for the departure lounge. On the way, I told Judy I needed to go to the men’s room. I was still getting over the large meal we’d enjoyed at our Williamstown apartment the night before and I felt a little nauseous.

Judy and I had just spent two weeks in Melbourne, where I was an umpire at Hockey Australia Men’s Veterans Australian Championships. For me, the highlight was umpiring Saturday’s Over-70s grand final between Victoria and Western Australia. The Victorians scored in the last minute of the second period of extra time!

Umpiring at the Men's Veterans Australian Championships, Footscray Hockey Centre
  • Save
Umpiring at the Men’s Veterans Australian Championships, Footscray Hockey Centre. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.

After the grand final, at the presentations, we were presented with umpires’ medals. The players described us (the umpires) as “the best we’ve had in five years”. I was chuffed. By the end of the two weeks’ competition, I had acquired two new hockey shirts. One was the official umpiring shirt, the other a walkout shirt. “Not more hockey shirts,” sighed Judy. Well, at least, I binned an old pair of hockey umpiring trousers and a well-used woollen vest before I left the hockey centre at Footscray.

We umpires receiving our medals following the grand final, the day before my heart attack
  • Save
We umpires receiving our medals following the grand final, the day before my heart attack. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.
With my fellow umpire, proudly wearing our umpiring medals, following the grand final presentations, This was the day before my heart attack.
  • Save
After the grand final presentations, with my fellow umpire, the two of us proudly wearing our umpiring medals. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.

During our visit to Melbourne, we stayed in an apartment at Williamstown, about 11 kilometres southwest of Melbourne’s city centre. Williamstown is located at the mouth of the Yarra River, at Hobson’s Bay, on Port Phillip Bay. Our apartment was located close to the harbour, so we took a number of walks along the picturesque Williamstown foreshore. It was a beautiful place to stay.

On the pier at Williamstown, during one of our afternoon walks
  • Save
On the pier at Williamstown, during one of our afternoon walks. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.
View of Melbourne City, from Williamstown foreshore
  • Save
View of Melbourne City, from Williamstown foreshore. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.

We hired a car for the two weeks of our stay. It enabled us to travel to and from the hockey fields (at Footscray) and, when I was not umpiring, go sightseeing in and around Melbourne. We visited St Kilda and St Kilda beach, St Jude’s Church (Carlton), the shops in the city centre, Bridge Road (Richmond), Chapel Street (South Yarra) and the Queen Victoria Markets. One day, we took a trip to Geelong, Point Cook and Point Lonsdale. We visited Judy’s cousin at Heathmont. And much more.

. . .

With 40 minutes to fill in, the view from the end of the departure lounge at Gate 7 looked inviting so I started to walk towards the viewing area. It seemed unusual that I should feel cold air invading my trachea. I remember thinking, “This Melbourne weather is crazy – most days the maximum has been 18 degrees Celsius – but this area is enclosed.” I recalled feeling this sensation a few times over the past two weeks.

“I feel dizzy…cold…weak.”

“Hmm, I feel a little dizzy. I think I’ll go back near Judy and sit down. Deep breath…gee that’s cold…I must be getting asthma!” I slumped onto the seat. “There, made it.”

I heard Judy saying, “Tony, are you alright? Are you alright?” “I feel a bit off,” I replied. In reality, I had tunnel vision, no strength, I was bathed in sweat but cold (so I was told later). I felt like I was drifting. “Tony, are you alright?” Judy kept asking. “Not really. I feel weak,” were probably my last words.

“Get him to lie down,” said the lady sitting on the bench seat to our right. Earlier, I had noticed this woman and her little boy. He looked a little older than my grandson (who was three at the time). I could hear him saying, “My Mum’s a nurse. She knows what to do.”

And, of course, she did know what to do. She motioned to the Virgin Blue staff who immediately called Fire and Rescue. Two uniformed men were there in a few minutes asking all types of questions and proceeding to give me oxygen. They assisted me to lie on the floor, consulted with the “Mum” who was a nurse, and promptly called the ambulance.

Two female ambulance officers arrived in quick time…more questions…the Fire and Rescue guys (and “Mum”, the nurse) gave their reports. Judy heard them say my pulse was down to 37! The ambulance officers seemed in a hurry to get me out of there.

“My Mum’s a nurse. She knows what to do.” These words kept ringing in my ears. It was very comforting, and we were ever so thankful to the Lord for that “Mum” and her son!

The wheelchair arrived, followed by a quick ride via the lift down to the tarmac where the “real” cold air of Melbourne struck my face. I heard the ambulance officers call for the waiting ambulance vehicle to be replaced by an intensive care unit. There was a handover and two men now asked all the questions. Judy did well, staying calm and answering when I could not.

I remember being transferred to a stretcher and being loaded into the vehicle.

“Do you want to keep your shirt, Tony?” the men asked. “What sort of question is that?” I thought. “Yes, it’s the only one I’ve got,” I replied. It was the walkout shirt given to the umpires at the Men’s Veterans Australian (Hockey) Championships.

Little did I know that they had already cut through my new woollen vest. They had carried out an emergency electrocardiogram (ECG). I had only bought the vest the day before, during our shopping trip to Bridge Road. Indeed, it was my only clothing purchase, in contrast to Judy’s many purchases, during our visit to Melbourne.

My umpire's walkout shirt (at right) remained intact. Unfortunately, my brand new woollen vest did not. However, Judy made it wearable again, by strategically placing the ribbon and buttons over the cut. My official umpiring shirt is pictured at left.
  • Save
My umpire’s walkout shirt (at right) remained intact. Unfortunately, my brand new woollen vest (pictured, centre) did not. However, Judy made it wearable again, by strategically placing the ribbon and buttons over the cut. My official umpiring shirt is pictured at left. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2023.

I’d had a heart attack.

The ECG confirmed I’d had a heart attack, or acute myocardial infarction. As I later learned, it was due to the complete blockage of one of the blood vessels supplying the heart. It was a life-threatening event, with the possibility of damage to the heart muscle and its function.

Judy phoned our daughter Ruth asking for prayer. She also phoned our church office asking the prayer coordinator to activate the prayer chain and advise our minister. But I didn’t hear that (she told me later) as Judy was sitting in the front of the ambulance vehicle next to the driver.

Little did I know that what followed was a quick comfortable ride to The Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) in Grattan Street, Parkville. Judy and I had passed by there a number of times the week before on our way to St Jude’s Anglican Church in Carlton.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital, photo taken from Elizabeth Towers Hotel. The hospital to which I was taken immediately after my heart attack.
  • Save
The Royal Melbourne Hospital, photo taken from Elizabeth Towers Hotel, over the road from the hospital. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.

I remember being prepped in the Emergency Department and Judy threatening me (lovingly and appealingly) with the words, “Don’t you die on me! Don’t you leave me!” What else could I do but make a good recovery? That is, do as I was told. And later, when it was all over, Judy had the cheek to call me a “Drama Queen”. Can you believe that? Well, I suppose I did take the lead role in the drama!

The ambulance officers had carried out the ECG while I was in the ambulance vehicle at the airport and emailed the result to the RMH. As a result, the hospital prepared its “Cath Lab”, the Cardiac Catheter Laboratory. The Cath Lab provides a 24-hour on-call service through Emergency and direct ambulance admission. The attending doctor and nurses in the Emergency Department were very supportive and professional as they waited for the Cath Lab team to assemble.

A cardiologist (the consulting cardiologist’s understudy) arrived and examined me. He explained the procedure the team planned to carry out. Judy was able to absorb the enormity of what was happening and obtained answers to her many questions.

All of a sudden, a male nurse clothed me in a hospital gown, placed more sticky electrode points on my body, shaved me in private and not so private parts, and placed an intravenous line in each arm. All this within two hours of (what I knew then to be) an acute myocardial infarction! Judy and I prayed before the orderly wheeled me away. I was hoping for a room that was a bit warmer, but no luck!

Coronary angioplasty and stent insertion

Dr Ravi Iyer, an experienced interventional cardiologist, was in charge of the Cath Lab team. He and his staff were terrific – very encouraging, confident and professional. To begin, the male nurse prepared my right femoral artery for insertion of the catheter (a long thin tube). As he smeared the cold watery betadine solution all over my right groin, I heard him say, “The next procedure might sting a bit.” (I was awake through the whole procedure.) Sting a bit! You’re joking! It was sore for days afterwards. And I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but this procedure would be repeated ten days later.

Dr Iyer (he told me to call him “Ravi”) and his staff joked about the size of my heart and blood vessels and expressed amazement that they needed to use such a huge stent. I could see on the monitors the right coronary artery before and after the stent insertion. (The stent is a tiny, expandable metal mesh coil. I often say to people that I have “chicken wire” in my heart.)

The procedure was most impressive to watch. It made sense as Ravi explained to me what he was doing. Well, I almost got it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t follow all that he said, as his authentic Indian accent was broader than mine (my feigned Indian accent) and (of course) there was the matter of a “weakened heart”. But I did hear him say that my right coronary artery was 100% blocked.

I was still in good spirits, despite all that had happened and was happening to me that day. I teased the staff about my getting them out of bed on their day off (it was Sunday). They responded by saying they were thankful that it was midday and not the middle of the night.

In the Coronary Care Unit (CCU)

To Judy’s relief, it wasn’t long before I was out of theatre and in the Coronary Care Unit (CCU). The heart attack occurred at about 8:50 am and by 2:00 pm I was out of danger and in recovery. What a whirlwind of a day!

Judy pictured near the entrance to the Coronary Care Unit (CCU), The Royal Melbourne Hospital, where I was treated immediately following my heart attack.
  • Save
Judy pictured near the entrance to the Coronary Care Unit (CCU), The Royal Melbourne Hospital. Photo source: Salecich Family 2009.

I remember being attached to a few machines, being told to lay flat and not to move my right leg. The site where the catheter had been inserted was starting to sting. Worse still, I was told I had to lay flat for four hours! And I was busting (to relieve myself). But then I reasoned one has to be self-controlled if one wants to survive a serious heart attack!

Judy’s presence gave me great comfort and provided a welcome distraction. She shared with me our daily Bible readings for Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 October. We praised the Lord for his mercy and grace in our lives. We contemplated what may have been the result if I’d had the heart attack while I was driving to Geelong or at the end of the pier at Queenscliff or St Kilda or Altona or (God forbid) during a hockey game. Thank you, Lord, for being with us all the way and being so gracious!

On the Altona Pier, 11 days before the heart attack
  • Save
On the Altona Pier, 11 days before the heart attack. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.

Not long afterwards, our daughter Ruth phoned. After expressing her relief and praising the Lord that I was okay, she demanded, “I want you to be around for grandparenting the children. You’ve got to come through this.” It was a very loving and heartfelt appeal and challenge. “Like mother, like daughter,” I thought.

Judy told me that she secured a room for the next two weeks at Elizabeth Towers Hotel, over the road from the hospital. I would join her at the hotel after my discharge from hospital. She was thrilled that “Blue Bags”, an agency of Virgin Blue (as Virgin Australia was called at the time), had delivered our luggage to the hotel as promised, and so promptly. To top it off, they left a message on one of the tags: “All the best for your recovery, Tony”. Who says the airlines do not care about their passengers?

Elizabeth Towers Hotel, where Judy stayed, and I joined her after discharge from hospital
  • Save
Elizabeth Towers Hotel, where Judy stayed, and I joined her several days later, after discharge from hospital. I’ve recently learnt that the heritage-listed hotel was demolished in 2011. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.

The nurses in the CCU were very attentive, caring and considerate. They kept afternoon tea for me and put my evening meal aside for later, when I could prop myself up. I was hungry, and the food was delicious! They marvelled at the series of events and said, “If you are going to have a heart attack, the best place to have it is an airport or sports stadium in a big city.” Well, I did it just right, didn’t I?

Dr Iyer flitted in and out during my stay in the CCU. He reported to Judy and me that the procedure had gone very well. He told us that the metal stent should restore circulation to the right area of the heart and that stenting of the left coronary artery (75% blocked) could be done later, after our return to Brisbane. However, he did say he could do it on the Tuesday of the following week, if that is what we wanted. He said something about giving my heart time to recover (hence the delay).

We decided to have Dr Iyer perform the second angioplasty and stent insertion while we were in Melbourne. After all, the airline wouldn’t allow me to fly for two weeks after the heart attack. Dr Iyer told us he would carry out the procedure at the Melbourne Private Hospital next door, since we had private health insurance. The alternative was to be placed on a waiting list for the procedure to be conducted in the public system. And since I am a Queenslander (a “reverse Mexican”), he told me my name would be added to the bottom of the list! I think he was joking.

About 6:00 pm Dr Iyer’s understudy arrived to remove the catheter and seal the site of the incision in my femoral artery. The removal was straight-forward but the “sealing” meant that for 20 minutes the young doctor put all his weight on the groin area where the incision had been made! It hurt.

The days following the heart attack

When I awoke the next day (Monday), the bruising and pain had arrived, followed by a small haematoma. The haematoma frightened Judy and me with respect to the success of the first procedure and made us a little apprehensive regarding the next angioplasty and stent insertion. (Not that we needed to worry.)

In the CCU, the day after the heart attack.
  • Save
In the CCU, the day after the heart attack. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.

Judy visited me in the CCU early on Monday morning. After being reassured that I was doing well, she left me and went into the city to buy a laptop. We wanted to be able to talk on Skype with our son (he lived overseas at the time) while I was in hospital and during our extended stay in Melbourne. Judy and I agreed we needed a laptop anyway. (We didn’t have smart phones in those days!)

That night, from my hospital bed, I chatted with our son via Skype using our brand-new Toshiba laptop. What a blessing to be able to speak and see each another at the same time. (This technology was relatively new for us in 2009.) Judy and I were able to reassure our son that I was okay and, in turn, he told us that he would be returning home in mid-December to receive his PhD award.

In the following days, Judy made good use of the new laptop. She used it to carry out her responsibilities as a warden of our church (St Andrew’s Anglican Church South Brisbane) and as president of the management committee of a community organization (Jubilee Community Care). She arranged for our house-sitter to stay on longer and negotiated with a care provider for her 93-year old mother Evelyn to stay another two weeks at the respite care home. (At the time Evelyn lived with us in Brisbane and Judy was her mother’s full time carer.) Judy had much to do.

In the meantime, Ruth made plans to join us in Melbourne. She would come for a few days, from Thursday to Sunday, to spend time with me, encourage Judy, get a rest (from her 3-year-old and 1-year-old twins) and do some shopping. Her mother-in-law agreed to look after the children so she could come.

During my hospital stay, Judy was kept busy each day responding to calls and messages on her mobile phone. Vodafone did very well out of it! She was grateful for the loving concern of many family members, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ. Our senior minister’s wife covenanted to phone every night, which she did, without fail.

Judy also notified Emi, a young woman from our home church who was working at The University of Melbourne, of my hospitalisation. Emi (not her real name) came to the hospital a couple of times to encourage us and brought bowls and utensils so we could have breakfast in our hotel room (after my discharge from hospital).

With Judy, in the Cardiology Ward, three days after the heart attack
  • Save
With Judy, in the Cardiology Ward, three days after the heart attack. Photo source: Salecich Famiily 2009.

In the meantime, the phrase “You’ll feel a small sharp pain” along with daily blood tests and insertion of new intravenous lines became the norm. I still had evidence of sticky tape all over my body from the numerous electrode points for the electrocardiograms. The echocardiogram (an ultrasound test of the heart) conducted on Wednesday before I was discharged showed that there had been some heart tissue damage. However, Dr Iyer reassured us that my heart would recover somewhat.

The staff at The Royal Melbourne Hospital were marvellous and the food was great, so I was not in a hurry to leave. They provided me with information about cardiac rehabilitation and urged me to complete the six-week program when I was back in Brisbane. (They were most insistent, so I did participate in the six-week program when I returned home.)

On the day of my departure (Wednesday), the pharmacist gave me a supply of tablets ordered by Dr Iyer together with a comprehensive list detailing their names, the order in which they were to be taken, and their possible side effects.

The slow road to recovery

After my discharge on Wednesday afternoon, I joined Judy in her room at the Elizabeth Towers Hotel, over the road from the hospital. This place was truly a godsend – for both of us. But you can’t sit in an hotel room all day, watching TV, so I persuaded Judy to go on an outing the next day. I suggested we take the “Freebie Bus” (Melbourne Visitor Shuttle) to see some of the sights of Melbourne city. “It won’t be too taxing on me,” I reasoned. “I can do that. It’s just sitting.”

The only problem was that the bus stop, at the Queen Victoria Markets (QVM), was about 100 metres away, and slightly uphill. I tackled it with the usual gusto. The pain in my groin was bearable once I got going. But no! Maybe I was being too ambitious. After just ten metres, I had a heavy sinking feeling in the chest and lead in my boots. Well, I told myself, there is nothing else I can do, but follow Judy’s (earlier) injunction, “Take it easy. Slow down!”

On arrival at the QVM, I sat (“collapsed”) on the first seat I could find, while Judy dashed up and down the aisles, looking for bargains. We had a little time to spare before the bus arrived. We spent the next couple of hours touring Melbourne on the shuttle bus. It was a great way for me to “get out and about”.

After completing the shuttle’s circular route, we agreed to take Ruth to the QVM, Docklands Shopping Precinct, Bridge Street, Federation Square and St Kilda, as time permitted. Some of these sights we’d already visited during the previous two weeks, but we decided it would be worth seeing them again. Even if I had to do a lot of sitting!

Ruth arrived around 6:00 pm on Thursday. The three of us had a warm (tearful) reunion in the foyer of Elizabeth Towers Hotel. We sat in the hotel lounge for a lengthy debrief before Judy and I took Ruth to our room, where we continued our catch-up. No phones needed now. (Our mobile phone bill had grown astronomically since Sunday.)

We decided to dine at the “Tree Tops Restaurant” on the first floor. This was my first “proper” evening meal since my heart attack. I really shouldn’t have ordered the Schnitzel Parmigiana (with copious chips and side salad). The girls chose small servings of Pasta Scallopini. That would have been better for me.

During the meal, Ruth recounted how she met Luke Power, the Brisbane Lions AFL player, who sat next to her during her flight to Melbourne. He asked why she was travelling to Melbourne, so she told him all about her Dad and the heart attack. At that stage, she didn’t know who he was. He expressed concern and offered help, saying he had “connections”. Then she asked him, “So, what do you do?” He began, “I play Aussie Rules for the Brisbane Lions…” When Ruth realised who she was speaking to, no make-up could have hidden her embarrassment and red face. We laughed so much. The Lord is good: He gives us encouragement (distractions?) in all sorts of ways.

With my daughter Ruth on the Melbourne Visitor Shuttle (bus), five days after my heart attack.
  • Save
With my daughter Ruth on the Melbourne Visitor Shuttle (bus), five days after my heart attack. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.

The three of us spent Friday and Saturday exploring Melbourne and relishing each other’s company. We filled the two days with a whirlwind of brief trips (with lots of sitting), which included shopping at Bridge Street and the QVM, sharing a meal at a real Pakistani Restaurant, loitering at the Flinders Street Railway Station, and a bus trip to St Kilda. We chatted, encouraged one other, helped Ruth “unwind”, and caught up on news about her husband and our grandchildren.

Our parting on Sunday was not such “sweet sorrow”.

Coronary angioplasty and stent insertion: A second round

Tuesday 20 October and my 8:00 am appointment at the Melbourne Private Hospital came around quickly (or so it seemed). It was an early start, but I made it. Dr Ravi Iyer arrived and (as before) flitted in and out, assuring me that everything looked fine and that the angioplasty should be a breeze.

A lot of the hospital staff (including Dr Iyer) had accents, indicating that (like me) they were not born in Australia. I guessed that they came from the Indian sub-continent or South East Asia. One of the nurses who attended me told me she was born in India and was a member of a congregation that supports the Christian Medical Hospital at Vellore, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Over many years, Judy and I have supported the work of this hospital both prayerfully and financially. I was most encouraged.

With the hospital staff, Melbourne Private Hospital, on the day of the second procedure.
  • Save
With the hospital staff, Melbourne Private Hospital, on the day of the second procedure. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.

On this second time around, I was more aware of what was happening so the blood tests and the intravenous line insertion seemed to hurt more. I had a lot of bare skin from before, so I didn’t need a shave this time. After a good chat with the attending theatre staff and another prayer, I was wheeled into the theatre.

During the procedure, Dr Iyer pointed out the pre and post stent conditions of the left coronary artery. He also pointed out distal areas that showed some blockages, adding that they could be managed by medication.

Before long it was all over. An orderly wheeled me to the recovery room. The morning passed without too much discomfort. This time Dr Iyer used an “arterial block” rather than pressure application on the site to close off the femoral artery. That was so much better. Nevertheless, I still felt pain from the previous attempt and the haematoma was still a worry.

Dr Iyer visited me before lunch. He said he was pleased with the procedure and its outcome. He gave instructions for the new medication regime, asked for details of my local GP, and gave me a DVD disc of the procedure for a cardiologist (in Brisbane). Finally, he wished me well with a warm handshake. (We re-enacted this moment so Judy could take a photograph of the two of us.) In my indomitable way and my best Indian accent, I was bold enough to say to him, “I am thanking you very much from the bottom of my heart for your care”. He loved it!

With Dr Ravi Iyer, following the second procedure, Melbourne Private Hospital.
  • Save
With Dr Ravi Iyer, following the second procedure, Melbourne Private Hospital. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.

I was left to enjoy my lunch. The nursing staff were friendly and looked after me well. Although they had to carry out half hour checks for the first four hours, they didn’t annoy me very much so I was able to sleep and recover. I even got away with asking for the “bottle” rather than walking to the toilet as I was supposed to do. The thing is, they want you to get up and walk straight away after a procedure. But I was just looking after my groin.

The next morning, Wednesday 21 October, after a shower, breakfast and an echocardiogram, I was discharged. It was about 10:00 am. The procedure and my overnight stay at the Melbourne Private Hospital cost my private medical insurance fund almost $15,000. It made me think: What did my four-day stay at The Royal Melbourne Hospital cost Medicare?

Outside the Melbourne Private Hospital, following my discharge on Wednesday 21 October 2009.
  • Save
Outside the Melbourne Private Hospital, following my discharge on Wednesday 21 October. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2009.

Following the second procedure, Judy and I made use of the Visitor Shuttle and continued to do more sightseeing around Melbourne. We had 3½ days to fill in before we could fly home to Brisbane. Under strict instructions from Judy, I promised to take things easy and sit when I was tired. We visited the Shrine of Remembrance, Royal Botanic Gardens, St Kilda, South Melbourne Markets and the Hockey and Netball Centre. We dined several times at the Zouki Café (The Royal Melbourne Hospital), where a curry was on the menu every night. I love curries.

Sunday morning arrived and we were ready to depart. Our friend Emi kindly offered to drive us to the airport. I didn’t need the wheelchair (I was doing well). The Virgin Blue check-in staff were very attentive (given their briefing). The social worker from the hospital had arranged with Virgin Blue to transfer our tickets and rebook our flights without cost. We were going home. At last.

Thank you, Lord. 


In August 2019, 10 years after my heart attack at the Melbourne Airport, I had a second heart attack. Fortunately, I was home at the time, and the incident was not so dramatic. The heart attack occurred because of near-complete blockage in the right coronary artery, the result of narrowing of the artery at the site of the stent (“in-stent restenosis”). The remedy: A second stent was inserted inside the first one. That was four years ago, and I am still here.

I am one of many Australians living with coronary heart disease, currently the leading single cause of disease burden and death in Australia. 


Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common cardiovascular disease. There are two main clinical forms: heart attack and angina.

In 2020–21, an estimated 571,000 Australians aged 18 and over (2.9% of the adult population) had CHD, based on self-reported data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020–21 National Health Survey. The prevalence of CHD increases rapidly with age, affecting around 1 in 9 (11%) adults aged 75 and over.

In 2020, there were an estimated 56,700 acute coronary events (heart attack, unstable angina) among people aged 25 and over – equivalent to around 155 events every day. Around 12% of these events (6,900 cases) were fatal.

In 2020, CHD was the leading single cause of death in Australia, accounting for 16,600 deaths. This represents 10% of all deaths, and 41% of cardiovascular disease deaths. Thirty-nine per cent (6,500) of CHD deaths resulted from a heart attack.

In 2020, an estimated two-thirds (66%) of acute coronary events among persons aged 25 and over occurred in men.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2023. Coronary heart disease.


Other articles by Anthony Salecich

  • Save
  • Save
Photo of author

Anthony Salecich

Croatian-born Australian, husband, father and grandfather, former secondary school teacher, Christian minister and Bible teacher. Now a community volunteer, chaplain and pastoral carer. Known for his people skills and sense of humour, Tony loves food, music, singing and sport (especially field hockey). A sportsman through and through.

Like this story?

Sign up to receive email notification each time I publish a new story on my blog.

7 thoughts on “Heart attack at the Melbourne Airport”

  1. Thanks Tony – a great read on the way home from the airport tonight. Lots of love from David and myself. Praise God we still have you with us.

    • Thank you, Pauline and David, for taking the time to read Tony’s story – and on your way from an airport too! Thank you also for your ongoing love and care.

  2. Dear Judy,
    Tony’s story is amazing with a happy ending. There is so much to be said about being in the right place at the right time with a nurse nearby and a little boy’s reassuring words. It was quite a journey for Tony and you as a family.
    Pat and Ken


Leave a reply

Hi, I'm Judy

Short stories from the heart...about life, family and local history, people, places and food.

Let's connect