Cardiac arrest survivor achieves recovery goal and conquers Queensland’s highest peak

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L-R – Nicole Brook, Richard Piper and Annalise Chester.

L-R – Nicole Brook, Richard Piper and Annalise Chester.

Richard Piper recently fulfilled a goal he set during cardiac recovery in 2019 to climb Mount Bartle Frere - the tallest mountain in Queensland.

‘It seemed like a good goal to set myself,’ said 63-year-old Richard. ‘I was 104 kilos and obese when I had the cardiac arrest so there was definitely work to be done.’

Fast forward to September 2021 and Richard’s determination and commitment saw him achieve his goal.

Richard, who lives at Cowley Beach, came home from work on an ordinary June day in 2019 and began to prepare dinner, hoping his niggling indigestion would go away.

‘A little later I was leaning up against the kitchen bench and complaining to my wife Franny that my jaw ached,’ Richard said.

‘Lucky for me Franny suspected I was having a heart attack and dialled 000.’

‘I went into cardiac arrest and Franny had to perform CPR for the next 10 minutes. She said she could hear my ribs breaking.’

It was Franny’s actions, coupled with two quick defibrillator shocks from the ambulance officers, that saved Richard’s life.

After 3 days in a coma in the Intensive Care Unit the prognosis was looking grim. Franny was preparing herself for the worst when Richard suddenly opened his eyes and started chatting to her. Richard on his walk

The stay in Cairns Hospital involved further treatments and rehabilitation including insertion of a stent, speech pathology, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

A few weeks later Richard joined the Innisfail Hospital cardiac rehab program which he attended twice a week for 6 weeks.

Here, under the watchful eyes of Exercise Physiologist Annelise Chester and Registered Nurse Nicole Brook, Richard followed a tailored program to increase his fitness and regain the confidence to return to work and normal daily activities.

‘I can’t say enough about these amazing girls. I would recommend the program to everyone; it was an essential part of my treatment and recovery. They can carry this for the rest of their lives from me; the help, support, understanding and friendships I got here was genuine and amazing,’ said Richard.

‘The aim of the program is to gradually improve heart function, make sure they are exercising safely and check the heart rate and blood pressure are responding normally,’ said Annelise.

‘At the end of the 6-week program Richard attended a wellbeing session with a psychologist and this is where he set the goal to further increase his fitness capacity and one day climb Mount Bartle Frere.

‘I was driving past Bartle Frere all the time and was really annoyed I hadn’t climbed it,’ said Richard.

‘I tried to climb it in 1984 and didn’t succeed due to the heavy rainfall that fell a week before Cyclone Winifred. I had climbed the first part to the Brokennose Saddle and had to escape off the mountain through torrents of raging water.’

‘It was a great feeling to finally conquer the mountain. The views were amazing, and we walked out onto these rocks and sat there to take it all in. It feels so bloomin' good to have accomplished this,’ he said.

‘I do want to say an almighty thank you to the Queensland Health teams in Innisfail and Cairns. They’ve done an incredible job with me. I’ve had the right people at all the various stages. At the beginning the ambos and doctors knew exactly what to do.’

‘And my Franny…I owe my life to her. She was special before she did this, now she’s very special,’ he said.

‘I’m going to do Bartle Frere every year from now on and I’ve also been looking at the Hinchinbrook trail and Mount Sorrow, I’m on a roll!’

The Innisfail Cardiac Rehab team were excited to hear Richard’s news about Bartle Frere.

‘He did an amazing job in the group, was very driven, worked hard and achieved a lot,’ said Nicole

‘He applied a lot of the education and had an amazing support network of family, friends and work mates.’

Annelise agreed: ‘The small wins are great for us but when we hear a story like this it means the world to us. He applied himself, achieved his goal and climbed Bartle Frere. What a legend he is!’