Grant Louie remembers tossing the tennis ball into the air, but cannot recall if he hit it or not.

The 59-year-old was mid-serve when he suffered a cardiac arrest and blacked out.

His clubmates at Gate Pa Tennis Club in Tauranga saw him collapse and smash his face on the turf.

What they did next saved Louie's life.

Advertisement

Kevin Reiher, 63, was playing on another court that Saturday afternoon last September.

"We just heard him hit the deck because he went down like a sack of potatoes."

Reiher said Louie was probably the fittest person at the club and was "a tough little nut", which is why it shocked everybody so much.

"There were people just collapsed crying on courts, there were other people just running back to the clubrooms that couldn't face it, there were juniors that were going pale that we had to get people to support. It was like you had dropped a hand grenade in the middle."

Reiher, who was a St John Ambulance volunteer in Te Puke years ago, ran over to check on Louie.

He had hit his face and was bleeding, his breathing was light and his pulse was fluttering.

There were calls for someone to bring the defibrillator from the clubrooms.

Then both Louie's breathing and pulse stopped completely.

Grant Louie suffered a cardiac arrest mid-serve at the Gate Pa Tennis Club and was saved by his clubmates. Photo / George Novak
Grant Louie suffered a cardiac arrest mid-serve at the Gate Pa Tennis Club and was saved by his clubmates. Photo / George Novak

Reiher's opponent that day, Gabriel Daniel, who had also run over to help, started giving chest compressions.

Reiher then took over and Daniel, 30, started breathing air into Louie.

The pair got the defibrillator, followed instructions, and gave Louie a single shock with the push of a button.

There was no immediate change so Reiher and Daniel continued CPR, "and pumped the hell out of him".

"And lo and behold, he just kicked right back in – bang. When he came around, he came back with a strong pulse, started breathing straight away," Reiher said.

He still gets emotional when recalling it.

Daniel, who just a week before had attended a St John first responders course, said he and Reiher had become very close since that day.

The moment their clubmate started breathing again stands out amongst the chaos.

"It was the happiest time ever, especially to see a mate go down like that and see the life leave him. The colour went, grey came in, and then just to see the life start coming back," Daniel said.

Louie was taken to Tauranga Hospital before being flown to Waikato Hospital.

A few days later he was home and a week later he walked back into the clubrooms to the surprise of his mates.

"I explained to them how I felt and thanked everyone who was involved."

Louie, who is head caretaker at Tauranga Intermediate School and who works at a local school camp, said he is now back playing tennis and doing everything he did before his cardiac arrest.

"I'm running around like mad like normal now. I just watch myself, but that's all."

He was back on the court in January and has since come up against Reiher and Daniel.

"It's incredible. You're playing against them and you think, they're the ones who actually brought me back to life. I'm just forever grateful that we're here and they did [CPR] on me. It's just a really good feeling to be out there again and doing what I love doing."

(l-r) St John Ambulance paramedic Kevin Nicol with Gate Pa Tennis Club members Gabriel Daniel, Kevin Reiher and Grant Louie. Photo / George Novak
(l-r) St John Ambulance paramedic Kevin Nicol with Gate Pa Tennis Club members Gabriel Daniel, Kevin Reiher and Grant Louie. Photo / George Novak

Louie had a work colleague whose family urged him to get a checkup after Louie's cardiac arrest and found he needed two stents.

"He wouldn't have known. He's really grateful for that because it could have happened to him as well. So it has affected quite a few people."

The St John paramedic who was first at the scene, Kevin Nicol, said Louie's life had already been saved before he got there.

"The hard yards had been done prior to our arrival. They had restarted his heart.

"I've been doing this for about 13 years now and I can probably count the people who have gone on from their cardiac arrest to live a fully productive life on less than two hands. It's not a common occurrence."

Nicol said this story showed the importance of having defibrillators in the community.

It also showed the importance of learning CPR and giving it a go when needed, he said.

"For every minute the patient fails to receive CPR or defibrillation, their chances of survival drop by 10-15 per cent."

He said if people are not seeing signs of life, they must attempt CPR.

"Have a go, if the person is not breathing, you can do no harm, only good will come from it."

Heart of Gold appeal
•The St John Ambulance Heart of Gold annual appeal runs from April 2-8, with street collections taking place around New Zealand on Friday. Online campaigning will run this month.
•Donations can be made at any ASB branch, online at www.heartofgold.org.nz, by calling 0800 ST JOHN, and to street collectors around the country.
•St John has treated and/or transported 469,850 patients in the past year.
•St John is made up of a mix of full-time paid employees and volunteer staff.
•If you would like to register an automatic external defibrillator (AED) or find the location of an AED in your community, visit: www.aedlocations.co.nz.