How a friend’s death inspired a life-saving initiative

Andy Paschalidis turned a personal tragedy into the Heartbeat of Football Foundation, focusing on heart health education and screenings.

It was at a Sydney football field 10 years ago that Andy Paschalidis’ life was changed irrevocably.

The sports journalist and broadcaster witnessed his Forest Rangers Football Club teammate Matthew Richardson die from a heart attack during the second half of a football game.

Matthew was just 43 at the time and had three young children with his wife Kylie.

“His death, and several shortly thereafter, provided the catalyst for establishing the Heartbeat of Football Foundation,” Andy says.

He explains that at the time of his friend Matthew’s death, there was minimal awareness of cardiac arrest in sport.

The Heartbeat of Football Foundation launched in 2016 and promotes heart health by increasing awareness and education at sporting fields and community programs, offering screening checks and expanding the availability of defibrillators at sporting fields. Kylie is a foundation advocate.

Andy explains the charity, which works closely with the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, is about “helping build stronger, healthier, happier and safer communities by raising awareness about heart health issues, encouraging people to make positive health choices and raising funds to support life-saving heart research”.

The importance of heart health

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute director and chief executive Professor Jason Kovacic says heart disease is Australia’s biggest killer.

“While we tend to think of cardiovascular disease as something that predominantly affects older men, it’s important to remember that it can impact anyone — regardless of age, gender or fitness level,” Prof Kovacic says.

“Even those that live a healthy lifestyle may be at risk due to an inherited condition, which is why it’s important for all Australians to monitor their heart health, discuss any family history of heart disease with their GP and be aware of their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels.”

Prof Kovacic adds it is important to highlight cardiovascular disease is particularly common among Indigenous Australians, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being more than twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease than non-Indigenous people.

A heartfelt impact

Since the Heartbeat of Football Foundation was established, it has delivered more than 200 heart health days, with at least 10,000 people having a nurse-led heart health check at a sporting field.

“People often thank us for the ‘kick in the pants’ to do something about their health,” Andy says.

“More importantly, we have saved lives with at least 12 people we are aware of who undertook a heart health check who didn’t know they had an issue, followed up with their GP and underwent life-saving surgery.”

Advocating for women’s heart health

Matildas player Caitlin Foord is a Heartbeat of Football ambassador and says it is vital that women protect their heart health.

“The statistics tell us that at least 10 Australian women die every day from a heart attack,” Caitlin says.

“I encourage all women playing sport to get their hearts checked regularly. Through action and awareness, together we can make a difference.”

This year the foundation is looking to expand its work in regional areas and with women, Indigenous and multicultural communities.

“A catchcry we use is ‘No one should die playing the sport they love’,” Andy says.

Heart attack symptoms to look out for:

Men

  • Pressure, tightness or pain in the chest and arms, which may spread to the neck, jaw or back
  • Nausea, indigestion and vomiting
  • Cold sweat
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

Women

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fainting
  • Cold sweats
  • Pressure in the upper back
  • Dizziness

Read more on maintaining heart health:

Written by Erin Miller.

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