Matt Shield’s story is one filled with sheer determination, hard work and inspiration.
From experiencing a “massive” heart attack and being told he will never be able to exercise again, Matt ended up competing in the Pioneer Mountain Bike Race in New Zealand. A race that travels 433km, climbing 12,540M. The 6-Day Pioneer Mountain Bike Race that travels through New Zealand’s Southern Alps, is a true pioneering feat and not for the faint hearted. Definitely not for someone who has experienced a major heart attack… Right?
For someone who loves to live life to the extreme, having a heart attack was a devastating blow for Matt Shields. Training for the World Rogaining Championships, Matt was running his usual 15km run to work one morning when a sudden “shot-gun” pain in the chest halted his dreams in one fell swoop collapsing at the side of the Pacific Hwy mid-run.
In an ambulance, zooming down the Pacific Hwy to Royal North Shore Hospital, the paramedics used technology pioneered by Heart Research Australia to take Matt’s ECG in the ambulance and transmit the result immediately to the hospital. Surprisingly his ECG results were fine yet a few minutes later things changed quickly. Matt says, “my chest just exploded – 100% blockage, the pain was off the Richter scale.” Thankfully with the technology speaking directly to the hospital a team of doctors were waiting for him when the ambulance arrived. “The team was ready and geared up and I was sent straight to the operating theatre.”
In the operating theatre, Matt watched his heart on the screen being injected with a contrasting agent through the radial artery. “It was supposed to be like a big beautiful piece of coral, but it was all black. The defibrillator was attached, adrenaline in my arm, people frantically moving around the room then I saw them insert the guide wire and stent into the LAD [left anterior descending artery]. As soon as the balloon was in and expanded the pain went immediately away, it was the most incredible thing and made me realise then it was probably going to be ok.”
The stent used to open the blockage in Matt’s LAD and allow blood to reach the heart is a treatment pioneered by Heart Research Australia at Royal North Shore Hospital. It is used for heart attacks as an alternative to slow-acting, clot-busting drugs, which used to take time to work, and could cause serious complications. The stent procedure can give immediate relief to patients and is a proven much safer and more effective treatment and is now everyday practice.
The stent procedure in conjunction with the ECG in the ambulance transmitting results directly to the hospital are treatments that were available to Matt due to research breakthroughs funded by Heart Research Australia thanks to the generosity of our donors. These treatments used together have helped reduce death rates from heart attacks at Royal North Shore Hospital by 30% and are now standard practice. Without the generous support of our donors, the ideas behind these lifesaving treatments, may have stayed in someone’s notebook.
The pain, the procedures, and the shock was according to Matt, the easy bit. The hard bit was “the talk” the next day. When the doctors sat down with Matt to discuss what happened he was told he will need to be on medication for the rest of his life and that his life was going to be very different. When Matt asked about flying out a few days later for the Rogaining Championships which involved 24hours of running, the doctors said no, no more running. Ever. For someone performing at elite athlete level and so focused on training and living an active lifestyle this was a serious shock leaving Matt’s head spinning. At this stage Matt had not learnt the skills and techniques around meditation and didn’t know much about psychology.
“without exercise and the framework I normally use to clear my mind and not think about all the thoughts it was a very hard place to be.”
Working with his Cardiologist, they found out Matt’s heart attack had been caused by a ‘plumbing’ not ‘electrical’ issue. The cause of his heart attack was very specifically around lipoprotein-little-a and calcification on the left anterior descending (LAD) artery. Lipoprotein-little-a is a type of lipoprotein/cholesterol and high levels increase your risk for atherosclerosis (build up of fatty deposits in the wall of the artery). With this knowledge, a background in research and data, and the help and support of his Cardiologist, Matt developed his own framework to measure and track everything to get back into exercise. He experimented and tested, finding what worked for his body and what didn’t, allowing him to safely push further and further.
Matt knew where he wanted to be. “The problem was where I was in my head wasn’t where I needed to be”. With help from a psychologist in terms of building the tools he needed, using apps such as headspace and working with his framework and cardiologist to get back into exercise, Matt ended up being able to reach a fitness and mindset level to safely compete in the 6-day Pioneer Mountain Bike Race in New Zealand. An incredible achievement for any individual let alone one who’s heart attack had been so severe he was told he would never be able to exercise again.
Matt is now continuing his love of bike riding and high-performance sports and is working to connect people affected by heart disease either themselves or their family or friends and helping them start a dialogue, connect, get healthy physically and mentally and maximise their sporting ability.
Matt has also come on board as an ambassador for Heart Research Australia’s RED FEB and is sharing his journey with heart disease to help raise awareness and funds for life-saving research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease.
We are so grateful to Matt and all the patients who share their heart stories with us. Everyone’s journey with heart disease is different and being able to share these experiences are so helpful in processing and managing people’s experience with heart disease.
If you’d like to read more about Matt’s journey visit his website https://epichearts.com.au/.