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The signs were there - chest pains, shortness of breath - but having a heart attack was the last thing Darryl Ross thought he was experiencing while cycling 150km.
Surgeons said it was a miracle he didn't keel over and hit the asphalt - though he did suffer a bee sting, a tyre puncture and flew over the handle bars after riding into a ditch.
"I feel just like the luckiest guy in the world. It wasn't my time. Obviously, fitness has a lot to do with it and the healthy meals that my wife makes at home."
The Lower Hutt dad starting feeling a bit off colour on the fourth day of the Ride4Life charity cycle event from Cape Reinga to Bluff to fundraise for the Neonatal Trust.
"We set out from Auckland and within the first five minutes I started to get some chest pains so I dropped back a bit."
Mr Ross, 52, and a medic put the pain down to indigestion or reflux, but when he started pushing his body up hills the pain increased.
Stopping wasn't an option - after all, the ultra-marathon runner and ironman had trained solidly for 18 months to complete the three-week journey, which began on February 25.
Eating a banana at a pit stop by the L&P bottle in Paeroa seemed to do the trick.
"As we carried on from there to Tauranga I just seemed to get better and better."
He saw a GP the following day to make sure it wasn't anything serious.
An electrocardiography (ECG) was "100 per cent fine", but blood tests came back with alarming results and he was told to go to Tauranga Hospital emergency department immediately.
"Everything apart from the physical evidence showed that I had a pretty good-sized heart attack."
Enzymes created by the heart when under stress had skyrocketed.
"I lay down on the table and they put dye into my heart and arteries to see if they could find the blockage. Luckily for me they did find one and put a stent in."
He was discharged on Monday - a day after surgery - and returned to Wellington to join the seven riders, including former All Black Christian Cullen, who arrived yesterday.
The surgeon was "dumbfounded" by his speedy recovery.
Mr Ross joined the charity ride as his only child Charlotte was born 7 weeks prematurely at Hutt Hospital and required specialist care in the special care baby unit.
Mr Ross said he "could never do enough" to repay the staff for taking care of Charlotte, now 7, but hoped the ride would meet its goal of raising $1 million for the Neonatal Trust.
About 6000 babies stay in a neonatal unit each year.
The trust supports families during this time, helps buy specialist equipment for the units and contributes to medical research, chief executive Michael Meads said.
Jane and Martin Weekes, whose triplets died in the Doha mall fire, are sponsoring petrol for the 12 support vehicles travelling with the cyclists.
The triplets spent time in the Wellington Neonatal Intensive Care Unit after they were born 10 weeks prematurely in March 2010.
The couple have given the trust $10,000, which was donated to them following the triplets' funeral.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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