Body & Fitness

I had a heart attack at 30!

His wife’s medical crisis was no laughing matter for Kiwi comedian Paul Ego

Now I don’t want meat pies to get a hard time over this,” says stand-up comedian and radio presenter Paul Ego with mock concern. His wife Janine Jones looks over at him with a wry smile and shakes her head. After 20 years together, she’s used to her husband finding the humorous element in every story. In this case, however, the joke truly belies the gravity of the subject matter because the pair are talking about the night Janine nearly died after suffering a massive heart attack, aged a mere 30 years old.

Now a slender, sprightly 42-year-old brimming with vitality, even 12 years on Janine seems like an unlikely candidate for heart failure. With no family history of the illness, plus healthy cholesterol and blood-pressure readings, she’d never had any reason to find out what the symptoms were. When she started to experience chest pain one night after eating a pie for dinner, she assumed the stodgy meal had given her indigestion and took herself off for an early night.

“It felt like there was a heavy weight pressing on my chest and it gradually started spreading down my arms,” explains Janine. “I now know, of course, that this is a classic sign. When my breathing turned shallow, I called out to Paul for help.”

At the time, Paul had no idea howperilously close to death his wife was, but he decided to phone St John’s Ambulance just in case. Fortunately, the emergency medical team arrived quickly.

“They asked Janine some questions. She was able to answer coherently but then her eyes rolled back and her head slammed against the wall,” says Paul (43). “No-one knew what was going on.”

“We found out later that I had been experiencing ventricular fibrillation,” says Janine calmly. “That’s when the chambers of the heart, instead of pumping, just start quivering. You can’t survive like that.”

“At the hospital, I lost it majorly,” says Paul, his usual smile now absent. “If the St John’s guys hadn’t been there… it doesn’t even bear thinking about.”After the incident, life returned to normal but the effects of their nightmare experience lingered on.

“For a long time, I felt very vulnerable,” says Janine, who is now a full-time mum to the couple’s two sons, Gabriel (9) and Isaac (3). “I went back to my job with oetroWater part-time but each day when I finished, I’d leave my work in neat piles on my desk with a note saying where I was up to. I worried that I might not be there the next day. I still struggle to be positive sometimes,” she adds softly.

“Every time I heard sirens or saw an ambulance going in the direction of our house, I’d panic that it had happened again,” says Paul. “Janine would be fine, of course – but she seemed fine before it happened too.”

Thankfully, the heart attack hasn’t had an ongoing impact on Janine’s health. These days she’s careful to get her “5+ a day” and stays active with regular exercise.

“It wasn’t really a wake-up call as such,” says Paul, “because we weren’t doing anything wrong in the first place.”

Paul came out of the experience with his sense of humour intact and, as well as presenting the oorning Rumble on Auckland’s The Rock radio station, he’s about to step back into the spotlight with a new stand-up show as part of the International Comedy Festival.

“I’ve called the show the Paul Ego Comeback Special. It’s not that I’ve been away, as such,” he says, “but I’m a big Elvis fan and when he returned to singing after doing movies for several years, he called it his Comeback Special. So I decided that title would work for me too.

“oy real inspiration, though, is my lovely wife. She’s the one who made the greatest comeback of all!”

Nicky Dewe

Heart attack warning signs

Heart attacks often start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. People don’t always recognise the warning signs and can often wait too long before getting medical help.

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, just like you see in the movies. However, the following symptoms can also mean a heart attack:

  • Heavy pressure, tightness, crushing pain or unusual discomfort in the centre of the chest lasting more than 10 to 15 minutes. The pain may stop or get less intense and then return.

  • Pain that spreads to the shoulders, back, neck, jaw and/or arms.

  • These may be accompanied by sweating, nausea, dizziness and/or shortness of breath.

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