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Graeme’s Story: “It Wasn’t Supposed To Happen To Me”

Graeme’s Story: “It Wasn’t Supposed To Happen To Me”

Graeme’s Story: “It Wasn’t Supposed To Happen To Me”

Graeme Burr is 65 years old and recently retired from a long career at NZ Police, a career which spanned almost 45 years.

Partly due to his job and partly due to a congenital heart condition, Graeme has always been very committed to keeping fit. For 29 years, he has gone to the gym four or five days a week, and he is also a member of a running club.

L-R: Caleb, Ian, Derek, Graeme, Steve, Drew

Graeme is under regular supervision from his family doctor and cardiologist who have been keeping a close eye on his heart for many years. The condition had increased from mild to moderate as Graeme became older, but he felt great and the specialists weren’t concerned. In fact, during treadmill tests they were surprised at his overall fitness levels and lack of fatigue.

“They said to me, as long as I keep exercising and keep fit, there was no cause for concern,” says Graeme.

“While I was working at NZ Police, I used to go to the police gym most mornings before work. Once I retired, I joined Jetts Gym and started to go there four or five times a week.”

Four months into his retirement, Graeme was at the gym early one morning when, with no warning at all, he suffered a sudden cardiac arrest.

“It was about 6:15 in the morning and I had almost finished my workout,” recalls Graeme. “I was using one of the weight machines, and that’s the last thing I remember until I woke up in hospital.”

Graeme hadn’t felt anything unusual that morning, he wasn’t feeling unwell and there was nothing to indicate that he was going to have a sudden cardiac arrest.

That morning, another gym member, Bevan, was on a machine near Graeme when he noticed him fall to the ground. He immediately went to help.

“At first I wondered if he might be having a seizure or was diabetic, so I tried putting him on his side,” remembers Bevan. “But I quickly realised he wasn’t breathing and needed CPR.”

Bevan called out, hoping there would be some other gym members who could help.

Electricians Ian and Caleb were also at the gym that morning. They are both trained in CPR and when they heard Bevan’s shouts they immediately came over.

“I saw that Graeme wasn’t moving, his face was purple and he wasn’t breathing,” remembers Caleb. “I shouted to Ian to call 111.”

It was the first time Ian had ever called 111. “My heart-rate was through the roof and I was shaking,” he recalls. “I had done CPR training for work, but I never thought my first real CPR situation would be at the gym, I always thought it would be at work.”

Ian stayed on the phone with the Wellington Free Ambulance Emergency 111 Call Taker while Caleb and Bevan performed CPR. “I was telling the call taker what was happening and they were giving me instructions for everyone over the phone,” remembers Ian.

“It all happened super quickly,” recalls Caleb. “I remember another person coming across with the defibrillator. He put it on top of Graeme’s clothes, but I knew from my training that it needs to go directly on the person’s skin, so I took his T-shirt off, put the pads straight on his skin, and got the other person to press the button. After we shocked him, I remember him gasping for breath. It was pretty intense.”

“Things felt like they were going in slow motion, it was like the world slowed down,” remembers Bevan.

“I was so relieved when the paramedics arrived and took over.”

Graeme has no recollection of the event at all. “My first memory was of waking up in hospital. My daughters were there, and someone told me I’d had a sudden cardiac arrest. I kept thinking, I’m fit and healthy, this is not supposed to happen to me.”

The official doctor’s report from the hospital indicated that Graeme survived mainly because of “good quality bystander CPR” and the use of an AED.

“I’m glad it happened at Jetts and not at the police gym – that one was small and often I was the only one there. If had happened there I could have been on my own and maybe would not be alive today,” says Graeme.

“I know I was very very lucky.”

Recently Graeme met up with the Wellington Free Ambulance paramedics who attended that day – Intensive Care Paramedics Derek Quinn and Steve Tautau, and Paramedic Officer Drew Luebke.

“The paramedics told me that by the time they arrived, a lot of the hard work had already been done by the other gym members and I was breathing. It felt really good to meet them, because it filled in a few gaps and gave me a little bit more closure.”

Thanks to the excellent care and CPR which Graeme received, he is now back at the gym training four to five days a week and has returned to his running group on Thursdays and Saturdays.

“It was great to see him back at the gym a few months later, it feels amazing to know that we helped save his life,” says Ian.

Graeme’s view on life has changed since that day. “Now every day is a good day, even if it’s a bad day. Thanks to the people that helped me, I will get to spend Christmas with my daughters and my two grandchildren.”

“I’m very grateful for all the help that everyone’s given me – Wellington Free Ambulance, everyone at the gym, and those that attended to me at the time. Without them having done what they did I would not be here.”


When someone suffers a sudden cardiac arrest, early CPR combined with the use of an AED can increase their chance of survival by up to 80%. That’s why it is so important that everyone in our community learns these vital life-saving skills.

Thanks to the generous support of Julie Nevett and The Lloyd Morrison Foundation, Wellington Free Ambulance is able to offer CPR training for our community completely free of charge. Click here for further information or to book your training. 



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