Emily Counter, 21, had a massive heart attack recently at a Noosa gym. She had an underlying heart condition that she had no idea about until she went into cardiac arrest while working out.
Emily Counter, 21, had a massive heart attack recently at a Noosa gym. She had an underlying heart condition that she had no idea about until she went into cardiac arrest while working out. Patrick Woods

A YOUNG Sunshine Coast woman is calling for defibrillators to be placed in all gyms, after she almost died from a massive attack while using a rowing machine.

Emily Counter was working out at Anytime Fitness Noosa when she had a seizure and went into cardiac arrest in October last year.

If it wasn't for the quick thinking of owner Aaron Petterson and gym member Ben Duffy, Emily might not have survived.

"One of the young members just came running to me and said 'something's happened to a girl'," Mr Petterson said.

"Em was just laying on the ground. She just wouldn't respond."

While she has no memory of the incident, Emily, now 21, is forever thankful for the two men who saved her life.

Mr Petterson said everyone at the gym was in shock as Emily "started to go blue", but Mr Duffy jumped into action and started performing CPR.

Mr Duffy started trying to resuscitate Emily as Mr Petterson rushed to get the gym's defibrillator.


"You learn how to use those things in your first aid course, but you never really use it," he said.

He said even though he was in shock, the defibrillator was so simple to use that he knew exactly what to do.

"I pressed the shock button and her body sort of jumped off the ground like it was in the movies," he said.

With the defibrillator and CPR, they were able to get Emily's heart going again before paramedics arrived.

"Thank God. That thing is just absolutely brilliant and was able to save her life in the end," Mr Petterson said.


Emily Counter was in a coma for three days after she collapsed at Anytime Fitness Noosa. Now, after undergoing open heart surgery, she wears her scar with pride.
Emily was in a coma for three days after she went into cardiac arrest at Anytime Fitness Noosa.

Emily was taken to Noosa Hospital, where she was in a coma for three days before being transferred to Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

Mr Petterson said the entire ICU team were commenting on how well the CPR process was done, the speed of 000 call, removal of obstacles, compressions, stability of the head and correct use of the defibrillator.

After a week of numerous tests, she was diagnosed with Bland-White-Garland Syndrome (BWGS).

The rare disease is characterised by anomalous origin of the left coronary artery from the pulmonary trunk and affects one in every 300,000 births.

Without surgical repair, most children die at infancy. Emily lived 20 years with no knowledge of her heart condition.

"I was getting heart pain and I was struggling breathing when I was running, way before I had this happen, and I thought I just wasn't fit enough," she said.

A week after the incident, Emily was taken to The Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane to undergo open heart surgery to have the anomaly removed.


Emily Counter says she feels like
She says she feels like "Wonder Woman" after surviving the incident.

She now has a scar down the middle of her chest, which she wears proudly as a token of her survival.

"I have stages where I'm up and down about it, but ... I've just survived such a massive thing and I should be proud," she said.

"I've got a completely replumbed heart now, so it's basically like a brand new heart.

"I just feel like Wonder Woman."

Four months after her surgery, she's been given the all-clear to start exercising again.


Emily Counter says she feels like
Four months after her open-heart surgery, Emily wears her scar with pride.

Emily was a member of a gym that was required to have a defibrillator under its terms and conditions.

Now, she wants to see defibrillators in every single gym.

"If I had of had it [at my old gym] then I probably wouldn't be alive," she said.

"It saved my life and it will definitely save someone else's."

Full video of woman, 20, going into cardiac arrest at Noosa gym:

Mr Petterson was extremely thankful he had one handy, and wanted them to be placed not just in gyms, but in all businesses.

"We really need to start getting these out everywhere, because they're even quite affordable these days," he said.

"It's literally life and death."

The defibrillator at Anytime Fitness Noosa cost just $1500, Mr Petterson said.

He said if the government provided funding for defibrillators in businesses, it could prevent incidents like Emily's from going a lot worse.

Struggling to find the words to thank the men who resuscitated her, Emily said without them she would not be here today.

"It was just amazing, the help that they gave me," she said.

"Just a massive thank you to Aaron and Ben for giving CPR and jumping straight into it, and not hesitating.

"It's just so great to be going to a gym who had that type of people."