A turn for the worse

“I need to turn around.”

Christo Swanepoel didn’t expect his dad, Braam, a cyclist since he was a boy, would ever say those words. Christo had cycled with his father from a young age himself.

One moment, father and son were enjoying a good heart-to-heart on their mountain bikes when, all of a sudden, Braam’s heart was not co-operating at all!

It was 26th January 2022, last summer. The pair were on a remote cycle track at Long Bay Regional Park. “I started to feel uncomfortable and had shortness of breath,” Braam recalls, “I said to Christo, ‘Son, I’m not feeling 100%’”.

Christo was in disbelief. How could this be happening to his childhood champion? A fit and healthy man?

Braam’s late father and Christo’s grandfather, a farmer, believed, “the better quality of life you want, you must do something to enjoy it.” The family lived by that philosophy in life - they stayed active and fit.

“The feeling will go away. Come on now,” Christo encouraged his dad.

They set off on their mountain bikes once again, following Long Bay’s beautiful coastal track that would eventually lead to the Okura estuary.

But they never made it to the end. Another kilometre on, the two stopped in their tracks again.

Braam wasn’t OK.

Something was seriously wrong.

“Alright, I’m turning around,” Braam insisted.

That’s when Christo, trying not to panic, took control of the situation.

Mum, Analie, was proud of her son and the decisions he made that day.

“As a family, before we panic, we see what we can do,” she says, “That’s exactly what Christo did. He dialled 111 and stayed behind his father as they made the journey back.”

After cycling another kilometre, Braam insisted they stop.

This is the last thing Braam would remember for four weeks.

They were at Granny’s Bay, in a remote place where access by road was a problem. Within 50 metres of ambulance crew reaching Braam on foot, the 56-year-old collapsed. Time was not on Braam’s side. He’d gone into full cardiac arrest and flat-lined. Crew commenced CPR immediately.

The Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter was tasked to assist ambulance crew and get Braam to the critical patient care he needed at Auckland City Hospital. It took crew just 22 minutes to reach Braam from the time of tasking from its Ardmore base.

"The AW-169 helicopter's ability to land on the beach, reduced critical response time," says Dr. Stephen Wood, ARHT's attending Pre-Hospital and Retrieval Medicine Doctor.

As the two services worked together to save his life, Braam would require two shocks of the defibrillator and a rapid sequence intubation (RSI) to assist his breathing.

Stephen accredits this early "chain of survival" intervention - the immediate CPR and early defibrillation as having the greatest impact on Braam's survival following his cardiac arrest.

And Braam did survive.

There were very real times where it was thought he wouldn’t make it.

“You have always been a fighter,” Analie says.

Deprived of oxygen, recovery and rehabilitation for Braam would be slow and continues today.

Sadly, Braam’s father passed away from a cardiac arrest at just 62 years of age. With a family history of high cholesterol, Braam saw his cardiologist twice a year. In fact, he had just been for a check-up just two weeks prior to the incident.

“My cardiologist was in complete shock like Christo,” Braam says, “He couldn’t believe it.”

Today, Braam is back on his bike doing what he loves and thankful for those who came to his rescue including the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

Under the watchful eye of his family, including his daughter Rinette, a nurse at North Shore Hospital, Braam continues to go from strength to strength.

Pictured: Analie and Braam