Happy to be alive

A SURVIVOR: North Harbour player John Nimmo at the scene of his near-death collapse.
A SURVIVOR: North Harbour player John Nimmo at the scene of his near-death collapse.

New Zealand masters player John Nimmo knows if he had collapsed at a normal weekend club hockey game in March, he would probably be dead.

But his heart episode happened at the national masters tournament in Palmerston North where St John Ambulance had a defibrillator and two doctors were on hand.

Yesterday the 64-year-old from Torbay in North Harbour was back at the twin turfs where he was revived after receiving one shock from the defibrillator.

Which was why he and his wife Catherine have donated a $5800 defibrillator to Hockey Manawatu.

Nimmo was candid about what had happened and welcomed the publicity, including the controversial photo the Manawatu Standard ran at the time. It showed him bloodied after collapsing on concrete.

"I'm keen to support the publicity of all that," he said. "Although it can be gory, people who saw it will know a defibrillator is fundamental."

Nimmo is retired but is a company director of Cadmus Technology which supplies a third of New Zealand's eftpos terminals.

He feels lucky. He was unconscious for only four minutes, whereas Bolton Wanderers football player Fabrice Muamba in London was out for 78 minutes and required 13 electric shocks.

One of the doctors at Nimmo's side was Manawatu umpire Jeff Brown who had played hockey with Nimmo for the Grammar club in Auckland 40 years ago. The other was Auckland Hospital cardio-vascular surgeon Andrew Hill who was playing for North Harbour on the other turf.

"I went down like a sack of spuds," Nimmo recalled. "I didn't even have time to put my hands out."

No wonder he smashed his nose. When the doctors arrived they found a green object in his mouth.

It was one of three aeroplane sweets he had eaten while listening to the team-talk. Then it was lights out.

"The black humour blamed the team talk, or the aeroplane gums," Nimmo chuckled.

By the way, Nimmo had scored the winning goal for the North Harbour 60s that day.

It was Nimmo's second medical calamity. About four years ago he had bowel cancer, the tumour was removed, he had chemotherapy and took a year off hockey.

Although no conclusive reason has been found for the collapse, he said it was not a heart attack, there had been no chest pain and no previous symptoms. The doctors have spoken of VF (ventricular fibrillation) arrest associated with Long QT syndrome.

A plane took him from Palmerston North to Auckland with a full medical team where he had "every test that could be conducted on man".

He spent a month in hospital, had triple bypass surgery and a $25,000 computer-like ICD device implanted in his chest. It is a combo pacemaker, heart monitor and defibrillator.

Last week he spent 10 minutes of each half playing for his Takapuna club team. On the bench were players with a quadruple bypass, a triple, a pacemaker and an ICD.

"I just want to play hockey," Nimmo said. "Life is a risk."

His wife is hedging her bets but Nimmo, who now has a personal trainer, is determined to be with the New Zealand 60s in England in August. He's been a NZ masters player for 15 years.

"I'm keen to go; medically I'm OK," he said.

Manawatu Standard