Rugby player Brad Houston doesn't remember much about the two times he nearly died on the field - but he now has a constant reminder in his chest in the form of a cell-phone sized defibrillator.

The West Coast lock suffered his first cardiac arrest while playing rugby league in 2016. He was given CPR by teammates who worked on him until paramedics arrived with a life-saving defibrillator.

"It took 13 shocks and they were still shocking him in the ambulance on the way to the hospital," wife Lilly told Herald on Sunday from the couple's home in Greymouth.

Then, during last year's Heartland Championship, Houston's heart stopped again while playing for the West Coast provincial rugby team against Thames Valley.


It was the second time in two years Houston had gone into Ventricular tachycardia (VT) while playing the sports he loves.

Now, at just 33, he has a defibrillator implanted under his skin and a new view on life.

"What happened has changed my outlook on things 100 per cent," Houston said.

"I have two beautiful daughters and a beautiful wife and we don't put anything off. I have more of a family focus now."

Houston - who has hung up his footy boots after his near-death experiences - can't remember either incident apart from feeling dizzy.

"It comes on really quickly and I go from feeling great to feeling really dizzy and then bang, I'm gone."

The first attack saw Houston down for 45 minutes as first teammates, and then paramedics, performed CPR.

When an ambulance with a defibrillator arrived, Houston was shocked more than a dozen times before his heart reset.


His wife, who wasn't there, was given few details about what was going on but was told the outcome "might not be good".

"I was in Christchurch so I had no idea what was going and because it went on for so long I had people ringing me saying, oh my god he's dying."

Despite the length of time before Houston's heart was reset he made a full recovery. But it was slow.

Brad Houston, West Coast rugby rep, with his wife Lilly Houston and their daughters Arliah Houston aged 9 (rear), and Meliah Houston aged 6. Photo / Supplied
Brad Houston, West Coast rugby rep, with his wife Lilly Houston and their daughters Arliah Houston aged 9 (rear), and Meliah Houston aged 6. Photo / Supplied

After the first cardiac arrest, Houston was put on medication and had time off to recover. There were a lot of tests and hereditary heart issues were ruled out.

"That was a huge relief because we have two daughters Arliah, 9, and Meliah, 6, so it was good not to have to go through tests with them," Houston said.

Doctors said the probable cause of the cardiac arrest was myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by a virus.

In such a young, fit person it was likened to being hit by lightning because it was caused by a whole lot of factors.

"But then when lightning strikes twice you think, okay what is going on here?" Lilly said.

The second lightning strike came four months ago when Houston played for West Coast in their 2018 Heartland Championship season-opening clash.

"I had got myself back to the gym and was fitter than I had ever been," Houston said.

"I didn't want to finish rugby the way things had ended after the first time. I still thought there was still a bit of me to play."

Houston said he felt great leading up to his eventual collapse.

Teammates who were also there when Houston went down in 2016 shouted out "we know what to do - it's his heart."

St John Ambulance was on site and the venue also had a defibrillator available.

They did CPR straight away, before one shock from the defibrillator reset Houston's heart.

"It was the first time the defibrillator had been used and I'm really thankful it was there," Houston said.

"I wouldn't be here without it."

Lilly said although the second attack was scary it wasn't as daunting as the first.

Houston's recovery time was quicker and the family again received plenty of family and community support.

"As soon as he saw the cardiologist they said you will not be leaving the hospital without some sort of device," Lilly said.

Houston underwent surgery and now has his own inbuilt defibrillator - or subcutaneous ICD.

The cell phone-sized implant sits under the skin, is wired to the heart and delivers a shock if needed.

"I've been warned it is like being kicked between the ribs with metal-capped boots so I'm not in any hurry to find out what that is like," Houston said.

"It is great peace of mind for myself, Lilly and the family though."

Houston said the device made it uncomfortable to sleep at first but he has adjusted to it - and so have his daughters.

"Brad has always been a hands on dad and the girls love dive bombing him and rough play when he gets home from work," Lilly added.

"They had to take it easy at first but now we are back to normal."

The implant means Houston has the freedom to work, go pig hunting and go to the gym with the peace of mind if he is ever alone and has a repeat of his cardiac issues, his implant will reset his heart.

The Houstons said their journey in the past two years had taught them to take nothing for granted and to live their lives to the fullest.

"We don't put things off anymore and we make sure we get away and make memories," Lilly said.

The pair also want to see well-signposted defibrillators in every New Zealand community.

"They are lifesavers and if it wasn't for them I wouldn't be here today," Houston said.

The couple said their parents, workmates and bosses, as well as the West Coast rugby and wider Greymouth communities had supported them during tough times.

"We live in a really great community where people genuinely care and that has made a big difference," he said.

Houston added he also drew strength from Lilly and their daughters.

"I have had bad days but Lilly drags me out and we just get on with it," Houston said.

"It's impossible to sit around and feel sorry for yourself when you have kids keeping you busy."