Heart attack victim Tonga Moke still cracking jokes after dramatic Waihi Beach rescue

By Melissa Nightingale

Tonga Moke had only ever been ill enough to visit his doctor once in his adult life - so it came as a surprise when the 55-year-old's heart unexpectedly stopped for 25 minutes on Waihi Beach on Wednesday.

Speaking from his bed in Waikato Hospital, where he is stuck for the next two weeks awaiting bypass surgery, Moke said he has no memories of the day he collapsed on the shore after a jetski fall and went into cardiac arrest.

"I don't even remember getting up and having breakfast," Moke said.

"I don't remember a thing, that whole day is just completely blanked."

If it weren't for the quick thinking of friends and family and the intervention of an off-duty anaesthetist, Moke would not be alive.

He had been riding a jetski off Waihi Beach when he did a tight turn and fell off.

But it wasn't until he got to shore that he started to feel unwell.

"Tonga just kind of collapsed in the sand," wife Lauren Bayes said.

"A very good friend started CPR on him, [then] this guy came in out of nowhere and just took over, it was really amazing. He obviously had a lot of knowledge."

Tonga Moke and his wife Lauren Bayes in Waikato Hospital, where Moke awaits heart surgery. Photo/Belinda Feek
Tonga Moke and his wife Lauren Bayes in Waikato Hospital, where Moke awaits heart surgery. Photo/Belinda Feek

The man was an anaesthetist from Waikato Hospital, who Bayes said gave everyone instructions on how to keep Moke alive.

Moke's heart was stopped for "25 minutes or more", but they were able to restart it with a defibrillator from the Coast Guard, Bayes said.

When the volunteer fire brigade turned up, the anaesthetist co-ordinated them until the ambulance showed up.

"If it wasn't for him and it wasn't for the quick actions of our friend giving him CPR, he just wouldn't be here."

Bayes said they were "very, very, very grateful that he was there to help us" and the pair planned to reach out to the man and thank him properly.

She was now suffering flashbacks of the incident.

"Mostly at night, you know, when you're in bed," she said. "I kind of go over it all."

Moke is now bed-bound as he waits for his surgery, which is making the usually active patient "stir crazy".

Bayes said Moke, who is fit and healthy, hated being stuck in hospital, "but he has no choice because it's keeping him alive".

Moke is a self-employed contractor "in the flooring game" and usually works seven days a week, "362 days a year", but work would be on hold for a while.

"I'm not one to sit still, I'm always active doing things," he said.

Moke said his mind was still fuzzy a day or two after the incident.

He woke up in Waikato Hospital and asked his wife where he was, but at first the answer "sort of just went over the top of my head". He asked her several times before he became more coherent. But his memory of the day has not yet come back.

"It's a strange feeling, not knowing."

He had a quiet word later with one male friend who had assisted with the CPR, telling him "thank you very much for pushing on my chest, but you didn't put your lips on mine, did you?"

"Nah, I couldn't do that to you, Tonga," his mate replied.

Both Moke and Bayes said he was the last person anybody would expect to have a heart attack.

"I've lived an active life, never had any problems."

Aside from mandatory checkups for insurance purposes, Moke had only visited the doctor once in the past 43-45 years.

Moke said he was deeply grateful to everybody who helped keep him alive.

"You really can't say enough ... thank you's about the best thing you could say. It's really no words. Just big thumbs up, well done for everyone.

"Just thanks so much for everyone, right from the people on the beach, right back to the hospital. Everyone's been lovely, friends, relatives, just all the support."

- NZ Herald

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