In Australia, a heart attack occurs every 10 minutes.

Disturbingly, more than 50 per cent of heart attack deaths occur before a person reaches hospital. Why? Because people wait too long to respond to the warning signs.

Every second counts. The quicker you respond by calling an ambulance, the more chance of reducing damage to the heart muscle and surviving.

That’s where Markos’ story is important, highlighting not only his experience with a heart attack, but the process of recovery and the positive impact of cardiac rehabilitation programs.

The 81-year-old Coburg resident suffered a heart attack in September 2013.

Recounting details of his attack, he recalls becoming “very dizzy”.

“I broke out into a cold sweat. Next thing I knew, I was in the Royal Melbourne Hospital where I underwent open heart surgery.

“After returning home, I began to feel that the heart attack was a sign from above,” he says.

Eager to recover, Markos started participating in the Australian Greek Welfare Society’s (AGWS) Greek Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, which he says played an vital role in getting him where he is today.

He first attended the Greek Cardiac Program in Brunswick in November 2013, with a referral from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and has been a regular participant ever since.

“This is my favourite time of the week by far; the cardiac health talks are always informative and useful to me. I cannot wait for the weekly exercise component of the program; I always manage to complete it and that alone makes me feel able, confident and competent,” Markos says.

These are feelings which he says he has not felt since 1992, when he fell into a bout of depression following his retirement.

“My heart began to hurt from that point onwards as I felt that I had lost everything – my life had no meaning.”

He admits to not taking care of his diet, and that he became very tempted to start smoking again.

“I became couch-bound and felt very alone. After my heart attack I felt as if I had lost even the last resources of self-worth I had left. In 1958 I said goodbye to my country forever, in 1992 I lost my identity, and two years ago I felt that I had even lost my heart.”

It was the Greek Cardiac Program that not only managed to help the state of Markos’ health, but also brought him out of his shell and rebuilt his confidence.

“Through this program I have made new friends, true friends … Angelo, Peter, Lonny … and have gained vast knowledge about my condition. I feel that I have finally taken control of my life,” he explains.

The 81-year-old now supports new participants by welcoming them and making them feel comfortable by sharing their personal heart attack stories.

“It becomes therapeutic. Thanks to this program my life feels meaningful and purposeful again as I belong somewhere, and that is no exaggeration.”

Early recognition of the warning signs is key to survival and cannot be stressed enough.

As with Markos, attending a cardiac rehabilitation program can provide you with the best possible chance for your recovery and heart health.

For a free Warning Signs of Heart Attack Action Plan (in Greek), call the Heart Foundation on 1300 36 27 87. If you require an interpreter, call 131 450 and ask for the Heart Foundation.

For more information about the Australian Greek Welfare Society Greek Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, call (03) 9388 9998.