An Aberdeenshire cyclist is back in the saddle months after suffering a suspected cardiac arrest – even though more exercise could cause his heart to stop again.
Damien Bird took ill during a solo bike ride in lockdown last year.
His heart is thought to have stopped and then restarted without intervention, and he was able to call for help.
Damien – from Netherley, near Stonehaven – is now getting on a special e-bike for the Etape Caledonia event in Perthshire on Sunday.
He said: “I was cycling along and then I just remembered waking up in the road like I’d done a silly salmon.
“I was suddenly unconscious and came off my bike and dived sideways on to my shoulder. The fall lacerated my liver and lung, I had no idea what was going on.
“I was unconscious for less than a minute and then I woke up in agony.
“I naturally reached for my phone to call my wife – who thought I was joking at first. But she was able to come and find me.
Defibrillator fitted to address heart rhythm
“We called an ambulance but it couldn’t find us, so I was bundled into the car and taken to A&E.
“I felt so spaced out – I was just hunched over in a lot of pain and had no idea what was going on.”
Tests later revealed he had arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy.
It means that during exercise his heart muscles tear and repair with fat, causing an irregular rhythm.
He has now had a defibrillator implant fitted to monitor his heart rate – but any strenuous exercise means he risks another cardiac arrest.
More exercise risks another cardiac arrest
Damien says it is unclear how he survived his first one.
He said: “It’s not confirmed, but one of the consultants speculated that it could’ve been the impact with the road when I fell, and gave my body a bit of a dunt, that brought me back.
“But no one was there to know for sure.
“The thing I found difficult to overcome was the mental side.
“Being told to stop exercising was really hard – due to the nature of the condition, it gets gets worse if I exercise.
“The more I exercise, the more likely it is that I’ll have another cardiac arrest.”
Damien says it was hard going into hospital because his wife had to leave him behind, due to Covid-19 restrictions.
His family were not allowed to see him again for three weeks.
“It felt so surreal leaving her at the door – it was very difficult,” he said.
“I could sense the pressures – she was working and had to look after three kids, and the whole time she has no idea what was going on.”
Damien was initially banned from exercise following the collapse, so he took matters into his own hands and bought an e-bike.
He said: “It took a while to find but I’m absolutely delighted with it. It does the full range and can help you climb the steepest hill.
“My experience has really shifted my perception of e-bikes – I used to think of them as cheating when I was really into cycling, but it’s not cheating.
“You’re still putting in the effort, but the motor supports what you’re putting in. It just offers a level of assistance.”
His brother first got him involved in Etape Caledonia seven years ago and he got “hooked” on the activity.
He added: “Years ago, I loved cycling into Stonehaven for work. When it’s dark in winter and minus five degrees it’s a great way to wake yourself up in the morning.
“I’ve competed in sport since I was eight years old so it was a difficult adjustment, but the e-bike has really helped.”