Etienne van Niekerk (right) and wife Debbie finish the intermediate triathlon at Seafront Oval, his first triathlon back after suffering a heart attack in April 2018.
Etienne van Niekerk (right) and wife Debbie finish the intermediate triathlon at Seafront Oval, his first triathlon back after suffering a heart attack in April 2018. Alistair Brightman

Triathlon athlete not a typical heart attack victim

WHEN Etienne van Niekerk felt some pain in his neck following a pilates session last year, he thought it was just a sore muscle.

The Hervey Bay man was actually having a heart attack.

A triathlon athlete in his 40s with no history of heart issues in his family, a possibility of having heart attack was the last thought on his mind.

But the former paramedic trusted his instincts and got checked. Doctors discovering he had Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, which is most common among young healthy people.

"I did not know I was having a heart attack, it just felt like a stiff neck," Mr Van Niekerk said.

"If I wasn't for my paramedic background, I would have just tried to wait the pain out.

"My treatment included not exercising for about seven months. Going from training for Iron Man to not being allowed up to pick up my son, it was a bit of an adjustment."

He was given the green light to return to training last year on the strict order that he doesn't push himself too hard.

On Sunday, he completed a triathlon in Hervey Bay -his first since the heart attack.

He urges others feeling suspicious pain to get checked out, as it could save their life too.

"It's important that people don't wait for the big crashing chest pain," he said.

"Usually, but not always, the pain is on the left side of the body."



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