Phil Foreman

Swimmer has heart, to take on Sylvan

A Red Deer athlete who almost died from an undiagnosed genetic heart disorder is preparing for a daring 5-km swim across Sylvan Lake on Aug. 18 to raise money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

A Red Deer athlete who almost died from an undiagnosed genetic heart disorder is preparing for a daring 5-km swim across Sylvan Lake on Aug. 18 to raise money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Austin McGrath, 22, said his recovery would not have been possible without the foundation’s research.

“My life was saved, and that is exactly what I want to do for someone else,” said McGrath who was a competitive swimmer and martial artist.

McGrath went into cardiac arrest on May 13, 2011 while lane swimming with his mother Debi McGrath at Red Deer’s Rec Centre.

Thirty minutes into the swim, McGrath was struggling. When he was pulled out of the pool he had no pulse and was not breathing. CPR was started immediately, along with mouth to mouth resuscitation.

Paramedics had to defibrillate McGrath three times before his heart started.

A coma was induced and Red Deer doctors struggled to stabilize McGrath before he was flown by air ambulance to Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre.

While in an induced coma for 17 days, McGrath’s kidneys failed, he suffered from pneumonia and an enlarged spleen.

Brain damage from his heart failure was anticipated.

On May 23, his 21st birthday, he was still unconscious and in critical condition.

But McGrath wouldn’t give up and made a miraculous recovery.

“I remember running to the pool in the morning and then waking up in the hospital two and a half weeks later,” said McGrath about the day he was brought out of his coma.

McGrath was diagnosed with prolonged QT syndrome, a genetic disorder where sudden death can occur due to an abnormal heartbeat.

“My family has never had any heart conditions, ever. My whole family is completely scot-free, so that’s why it was a blow to us.”

He required rehabilitation to speak, walk and write and within six weeks, he had accomplished what medical experts expected would take six months.

His short-term memory loss has also dramatically improved.

Since his heart failure, Lindsay Thurber grad has completed some engineering prerequisite classes at Red Deer College.

When McGrath left hospital after 47 days, he was determined to do something to help others.

Two months ago, he contacted the Heart and Stroke Foundation and began training for the Sylvan Lake swim from the town’s pier.

“I’ve never done a long distance swim in Sylvan Lake before,” McGrath said.

Swimming in a lake is harder with currents, winds, unpredictable weather, and waves from boat traffic, he said.

He also has to watch his heart rate.

“If I push myself too hard then I could have another cardiac arrest.

“There’s a bunch of safety precautions I have to take. I will have a boat following me the whole time. I will have a person in there who is a confident swimmer who can jump in case something happens. I will have a paramedic in the boat just in case.”

So far McGrath has raised $2,500 for his event Swim for Life.

A barbecue will be held on the pier on the day of the swim to raise money.

The swim across the lake and back starts at 11 a.m..

A silent auction will also be held Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. at Bo’s Bar and Grill in Red Deer.

An 90s alternative rock band will perform and UFC 150 competition will be on the screen. Tickets are $10 each and include a pint and an appetizer. For tickets call McGrath at 403-598-4630.

For more information or to donate online visit and click on upcoming events under the events tab.

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