Interview with Garry Jack, April 2021
Interview & Article By: Manav Kaila, The Poke Initiative, University of Sydney
Garry Jack Footy Legend Unbelievably Survived Cardiac Arrest
Rugby League Legend, Garry Jack, has shared his story about his encounter with sudden cardiac arrest, which left him clinically dead for nearly 10 minutes. Garry has agreed to become a patron for the Michael Hughes Foundation, working alongside their team, to encourage everyone to get CPR trained and provide confidence to give it a go.
The first grade professional represented the Balmain Tigers, NSW (Blues) and Australia (Kangaroos), and had an illustrious career spanning the 80’s and 90’s. Garry now cheekily remarks, “If it’s in ya, it’s in ya… I’ve always been competitive, I’ve always tried to be the best at whatever I did.” Now, after his retirement from a successful football career, 59 year-old Garry has taken a liking to Brazilian ju-jitsu, for which he trains three times a week to stay fit, among other things.
Garry avidly watches his diet and has taken care to visit a cardiologist regularly for the last three years. Just weeks before his cardiac arrest, he’d been out completing his regular fitness routine of jogging 3km at the local park and coming home to swim some laps in his pool. Having been told that his heart was doing fantastically after successive stress tests, the last thing Garry was expecting was a cardiac arrest. Garry suspected nothing.
“It was just like any other day. It was a Friday; it was 22 January 2021.”
On that fateful day, Garry had arrived at Castle Hill for ju-jitsu, and had completed a warm-up run of five laps.
“(After the warm-up), our trainer said ‘Okay! Grab a partner now and start to do some exercises together’, and I went to grab my partner, or I thought I did… and that’s all I remember.”
‘Even as I was doing the laps, I had no pain in my chest, I had no pain in my arm, I never had any symptoms at all.”
There was no way of knowing. Garry’s survival depended on him being at the right place at the right time, around the right people. Timing was everything for Garry.
According to bystanders, Garry had collapsed and his lips had started to turn blue. “It was a hot day- a very hot day! It was probably forty degrees,” Garry recalls. His mate, Dave, thinking that he may have collapsed due to the heat, had proceeded to hold his head to keep his airways open. Another mate, Simon, had read the signs. He made the quick decision to commence CPR and locate the defibrillator. It was this decision that would save Garry’s life.
The Michael Hughes Foundation’s own Kevin McSweeney was part of the paramedic team onsite that day, taking over after 10 minutes of CPR. Garry was rushed to hospital and has subsequently had two stents placed in his coronary arteries as well as an ICD ready if such an event were to recur.
He recalls having an out-of-body experience, saying, “I remember being in this dark room looking down at myself. I just remember standing up and falling over, and I just kept falling over and kept falling over. I said to myself ‘I’ve just got to get out of here, I can’t stay here! I’ve got to go to my son’s wedding!’.”
Rejoicing at his son’s wedding a week later, Garry regards himself as one of the lucky few. The survival rate out of hospital of those who suffer a sudden cardiac arrest is a sobering 9%. With this in mind, Garry is hoping to be a force for change.
He has become an advocate for CPR, encouraging the importance of learning and practising to make the community safer. Becoming a patron of the Michael Hughes Foundation, Garry supports the work they are doing around increasing awareness for sudden cardiac arrest and their campaign around getting people trained for such emergencies.
He reckons that everyone who can, should, citing his experience as an instance where someone’s CPR competence made all the difference when it mattered. He hopes that this will improve the staggering figure which is the mortality rate of cardiac arrest.
Watch the full interview with Kevin McSweeney, Chair, Michael Hughes Foundation