MacDonald coming out of coma

FAMILY MAN: Hoani MacDonald with his son, Iwi, at Rugby Park last month.
FAMILY MAN: Hoani MacDonald with his son, Iwi, at Rugby Park last month.

Good news emerged last night as veteran Southland Stags lock Hoani MacDonald started to come out of an induced coma at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland after suffering cardiac arrest during a rugby game on Saturday.

Fifteen minutes into the provincial semifinal game against Counties-Manukau in Pukekohe, the 34-year-old dropped to his knee when running across the field after a lineout.

When Stags physio Karl McDonald got to him, he looked to the sideline and tapped on his own head to indicate the player was groggy and could be concussed.

Hoani MacDonald is treated on the field during the ITM Cup Championship Semifinal match.
Hoani MacDonald is treated on the field during the ITM Cup Championship Semifinal match.

But when MacDonald tried to get to his feet and fell back to the ground, losing consciousness, it become apparent it was much worse as team doctor Peter Finlayson attended to him.

MacDonald was stretchered from the field and from there his condition continued to deteriorate.

It is understood he had a seizure and lost consciousness again.

He went into cardiac arrest just minutes after being taken off the field and ambulance officers performed CPR for almost 10 minutes behind a tarpaulin put up for privacy.

They used a defibrillator to revive Macdonald when CPR and a shot of adrenaline failed to bring back his pulse.

He reportedly "flatlined" twice as his heart stopped and he came close to death.

Just 30 metres from where medics were battling to save MacDonald's life, Southland and Counties were still going head to head on the field.

After 15 to 20 minutes he was stabilised and taken to Middlemore Hospital, where he was put into a induced coma.

The New Zealand Rugby Union and Rugby Southland issued a statement late last night to say MacDonald had started to come out of the coma and the news was looking much better.

NZRU general manager professional rugby Neil Sorensen said: "MacDonald has started to come out of an induced coma and is showing early positive signs, including acknowledging questions and recognising people around him.

While this is positive news, he remains in intensive care at Middlemore Hospital and his condition is described as stable.

"Hoani's family remain at his bedside and have expressed thanks for the massive outpouring of love and support from the New Zealand public."

The sombre turn of events had filtered through the Stags' management and up to the coaches' box just before halftime of the game on Saturday.

Coach David Henderson found it difficult to compose himself at the halftime break and decided to keep the players in the dark about what had happened to their team-mate.

"I was pretty cut up at halftime and it was hard to keep myself together, because something had gone seriously wrong," Henderson said. "I had to keep focused, but it was tough."

The Stags' management broke the news to the players soon after the final whistle.

Some of the senior players visited MacDonald in hospital on Saturday night.

The team arrived back in Invercargill yesterday morning where they were met by Rugby Southland officials.

Rugby Southland chief executive Brian Hopley said it was important they offered help to the players who were struggling with the situation.

"They were met off the plane today and given a debrief. Leicester [Rutledge] was involved in that. Having someone of his mana is very good to meet with the players."

Hopley praised the way the Stags' management handled the situation in Auckland and in particular manager Glenn Morrison, who is still in Auckland with Macdonald.

Rugby Southland had tried to get MacDonald's fiancee, Michelle Notman, their two boys - Iwi, 2, and Kade, 11 months - as well as MacDonald's mother to Auckland on Saturday when the news broke.

However, they were unable to fly until yesterday morning when MacDonald's family was able to fly out to be with him.

Saturday was tipped to be his last game before retiring and starting a coaching career.

MacDonald made his Southland debut in 2000 and played for the Melbourne Rebels in the Super Rugby competition before returning to New Zealand to play for the Highlanders and Stags this year.

The Southland Times