How Surf Lifeguard Training Saved the Life of a Fit and Healthy Father of Two

Tuesday, 9 April 2024

For many parents, what their kids are interested in has significant sway, often shaping their own interests.  For Cantabrian Madi Hall, that’s exactly how he ended up in Surf Life Saving.

“My kids started surf lifesaving when they were young, and for a couple of years, I was just the helpful dad.  The surf lifeguards at North Beach Surf Life Saving Club saw that I was kind of interested, so they led me down the path of becoming a surf lifeguard.”

And he hasn’t looked back since.  He now has his Surf Lifeguard Award and also races Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRBs).

“It’s a cool sport to be involved with, as there aren’t many sports you can do with your kids.  We go to carnivals together and race IRBs – it’s a real family thing.”

And it was while he was at one of these carnivals that disaster struck.

“After watching my daughter compete, I decided to go home for lunch where my son was. I’d just got in the door and sat down on the couch when I started to get quite severe chest pain, which was localised to the heart area.”

Being fit and healthy, and only 41 years old, Madi initially didn’t think much of it, but alarm bells started to ring when other symptoms kicked in.

“I got an achy left arm and numb fingers.  I then got really sweaty, found it hard to breathe, clammy skin… the symptoms started to get very obvious, and I started to register what was happening – I was having a heart attack.”

Madi’s surf lifeguard training instantly kicked in.

“I thought I was going to pass out, so I quickly talked to my son about what I thought was happening.  He was very calm and went off to Alexa, the voice assistant, and asked her ‘what do I do if my dad is having a heart attack’.”

Madi also knew time was critical when it came to heart attacks, so he got on the phone and called 111.  With Hato Hone St John on the way, he then lay down on the couch with his son and waited.

“I was in quite a lot of pain.  It was like having a really heavy weight on my heart - It felt as if someone was holding it.  It was very painful.”

An ambulance soon arrived, and Madi was taken to Christchurch Hospital, where he stayed for five days.

Doctors confirmed Madi’s suspicions that he had a heart attack, most likely caused by a blood clot or by a hole in his heart, which they found after a series of tests.

“I’m doing well now, but mentally it’s been a bit tough because even though they’ve said I’m healthy, I’m now very conscious of my body and I listen to it a lot more now.”

He said his surf lifesaving training definitely helped.

“Absolutely. 100%” he said.  “As a surf lifeguard, you learn all sorts of skills, and they’re not just skills for the beach.  You learn about first aid, including symptoms of a heart attack, which can be applied anywhere.”

He also saw how beneficial surf lifesaving skills were for his 11-year-old son.

“The whole thing was a shock for him as he realised I wasn’t bulletproof.  Kids often think their dads are the tough guys but there he was, sitting next to me, listening to me as I explained what was going on, and holding my hand.  He was amazing through it all.  He was so calm, and his reaction was bang on.”

Madi says his family has gained a lot from being part of the Surf Life Saving community – family memories, friends, and invaluable skills.  He’s all for giving it a go, emphasising that, as he discovered, you never know when someone might need saving, even beyond the red and yellow flags.