First aid

Updated 02 September 2013

Man dies of heart attack at gym

A 49-year-old man recently died at a gym after suffering a heart attack while working out on an exercise bicycle. Health24 spoke to Nick Dollman from Netcare 911.

A 49-year-old man recently died at a gym after suffering a heart attack while working out on an exercise bicycle.

According to Nick Dollman from Netcare 911, the man had a history of high blood pressure and had a stressful job – factors that may have contributed to the sudden heart attack.

"Gym staff used an AED to try and resuscitate the man. This is a small portable automated external defibrillation machine which works by administering an electric shock to the heart if indicated by the victim’s heart rhythm. An AED has voice commands and talks the rescuer through the process," he said.

By the time paramedics arrived, the AED had already administered three electric shocks to the man and the gym staff were performing CPR and using a one-way plastic mouth piece to deliver mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing.

Dollman praised the gym staff for their efforts and said they did an excellent job in getting medical attention to the victim as soon as possible. They also used their first-aid skills exactly as they had been taught.

"This kind of effort applied to a milder heart attack would probably set the victim on the road to a speedier recovery. First-aid and CPR training can successfully be used to save a life – if applied properly and timeously," he said.

First aid for heart attacks
A heart attack occurs when an artery supplying blood to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked by a blood clot, which in turn causes permanent damage to the heart muscle.

This may be fatal.

Signs to look out for:

  • chest pain or discomfort that is crushing, like a heavy weight;
  • squeezing, like a tight band around the chest;
  • an ache in the centre of the chest – the pain may radiate to the neck, jaw, shoulders, arms (especially the left), back, abdomen, face or teeth;
  • the pain is persistent and lasts for more than 15 minutes, and does not ease with rest;
  • heavy sweating, difficulty breathing, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea and pale, clammy skin;
  • fast or irregular pulse;
  • the person suddenly collapses and loses consciousness.

When to get help
If any of the above signs are present, it’s advisable to call for medical assistance immediately. The sooner help arrives and the patient receives treatment, the better the chances the attack will not be fatal and the heart will not be damaged.

Do the following while you wait for medical help to arrive:

  • Check if the person has a history of heart problems and if they’re on medication. If they are, help them take their medication.
  • Help them sit still, with bent knees to ease strain on the heart.
  • Talk calmly and reassuringly, and loosen any tight clothing.
  • Monitor any changes in their condition.
  • Ensure the patient chews and swallows one aspirin, followed by some water. Aspirin thins the blood, which assists the heart to get more blood.

Training opportunities
For further information on courses available, contact the Netcare 911 School of Emergency and Critical Care at 011-695-9600 or visit the Netcare 911 website at

Ensure you use an accredited facility and receive a certificate of competence.

(Amy Henderson, Health24, updated May 2008)

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