It’s been a very successful year on the field for Keith Ellis.
The masters hockey athlete has won a World Cup, a national championship and was New England Sport Council’s senior athlete of the year.
And that’s just naming a few of his achievements.
But all those nearly didn’t happen after Ellis received a shattering phone call a couple of weeks out from the World Cup in Barcelona.
“I've known for a couple of years there was something not totally right with me and I had been telling the doctors for ages,” he said.
“They checked me for all sorts of things.
“The admission was there that it couldn't possibly be your heart because you're so fit and active.”
Ellis then went to a cardiologist who performed more tests which showed nothing. But then he went for scans.
“I remember as I left the room he said ‘I don't think it is going to show anything Keith. I think I am going to be useless to you but at least that totally remove the heart issue.’
“Two days later I got a phone call from him saying ‘can you get down to Sydney on Monday I have an opening for you at St George Hospital.’”
It turned out Ellis had significant narrowing in the arteries surrounding his heart which required stents to be put in.
Ellis thought the news would halt his World Cup aspirations but, following advice from the cardiac rehabilitation unit at the Armidale Hospital, he managed to get on the plane to Spain and play a part in his over 75’s Masters team’s World Cup triumph.
“I was also bulletproof, I thought this would never happen to me,” he said.
“It came as such a kick in the guts and the first thing I did was ring up and pull myself out of the team.
“The coach said ‘don't pull out because we won't put another player in, we have a full squad. You’re vice-captain of the team and you could coach from the side.’”
Ellis had one session with the physiotherapist, Jenny McKay, at the cardiac rehab unit prior to him attending the World Cup.
She said it normally is an eight-week program but they crammed a lot of information specifically for Ellis to attend the competition.
“We had a half hour interview and a one hour session with Keith before he got on the plane to go to Barcelona to go to the World Championships,” she said
“When I say Keith was my greatest challenge he was my greatest challenge in applying the knowledge that we had to the circumstances that he was in to keep him safe but allow him to do and leave the life he wanted to leave.
“The proof is in the pudding that if you take out education, take out exercise, take our support you gain that confidence and that knowledge to do whatever it is in your life you need to do.”
Ellis said: “We went through that exercise in an hour and a half and I went away with a lot more confidence.”
“They gave me the confidence providing I listen and learn from that. I had to do that if I wanted to participate and contribute to the team.
The New England region has a higher prevelance of cardiovascular disease than the rest of the state.
The NSW average is 21.5 per cent while our region has a 24.8 per cent average.
Armidale’s cardiopulmonary rehabilitation co-ordinator Megan McDonald said heart disease is one of the leading factors of death in Australia. She said there is a huge risk of having another heart event after the first one and conditions need to be managed.
“The service is basically about secondary prevention but it is not just people that have heart attacks, it is people that have had valve surgery, people who have had an irregular heart rate, people who have had a pacemaker put in,” she said.
“It is about all conditions with hearts and managing that in the best way they can, and giving them the tools to manage it as best they can.
“Research shows that if we don't do anything after we have had a heart condition or a heart attack we are 50 per cent more likely to have a secondary within the first 12 months.
“That is why it is important to identify your risk factors like hypertension, cholesterol, family history.”
When Ellis came back from the World Cup, he went back to the ward and finished the program with education and practical sessions to get back on track and learn how to live a healthier lifestyle.
“After a fairly exhausting campaign there, I was shot to pieces,” he said.
“I started coming in here twice a week and learning things, talking to people. I would get on an exercise bike and I would start pushing it. I thought the only way to train was to go full tilt.”
He then went on to win gold with NSW at the national titles in Lismore.
After his scare, Ellis wants to make people aware of the work the cardiac rehab unit does as well as urging people to educate themselves on how to look after their bodies better.
“In the classes you learn about diet and how to cover things. I think there is a bit of a need for education for people in advance,” he said.
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