Aussies warned against heart 'complacency'

·2-min read

Recovering in intensive care, former AFL player Dean Wallis asked himself a hard question.

"What would I do today, knowing I wasn't going to be here tomorrow?"

The 53-year-old dual-premiership Essendon Bombers defender said he thought he'd probably see a doctor.

Heart disease is Australia's leading cause of death, killing someone every 13 minutes.

Wallis was almost one of them, suffering three cardiac arrests while spending 16 minutes on the phone to triple-zero in March.

He blacked out as the ambulance approached and woke to find paramedics jumping up and down on him.

Six months later he told AAP what he could have done differently.

"If I had decided the day before, I've got no warning signs, I've got no history, but I'm going to the doctor to get checked out, they might have found a blockage which could have prevented or stopped my incident."

"I was lucky, I got a second chance," he said.

Wallis was not the type to regularly visit doctors and a recent Heart Foundation survey of more than 1200 Australians found many others like him.

While 71 per cent of those over 45 were concerned about developing heart disease, close to one-third had never raised it with a doctor.

Heart Foundation chief medical adviser Professor Garry Jennings says it's not surprising.

"There's a fair bit of complacency around heart disease that goes away when there's somebody well known who suffers a sudden heart attack, but that comes back fairly soon," he told AAP.

Wallis' wake-up call came during an increased time of cardiac awareness.

Cricketing legend Shane Warne, 52, had died suddenly the previous week, just hours after paying tribute to fellow cricketer Rod Marsh, 74, who died the same day after suffering a heart attack in February.

Victorian senator Kimberley Kitching, 52, also died from a suspected heart attack in March.

The Heart Foundation is launching its annual Give With Heart fundraiser on Wednesday, in a bid to raise more than $1.5 million for research.

Prof Jennings says people need to get their heart checked more often, and not wait until a celebrity, friend or family member joins the more than 40,000 Australians who die from heart disease or failure each year.

"It's so preventable," he said.

"This is our biggest cause of death."

Diet and exercise play a role but blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as risk factors like diabetes or smoking are also factors.

Heart health assessments with a GP can be bulk-billed and can determine a person's risk.

Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are advised to regularly have their heart health checked from 30, while others over 45 should get a check every two years.