Epic swim a feat with heart
Coming up to the 10th anniversary of his first cardiac procedure, architect Michael Sheppard, 64, celebrated by swimming the English Channel.
His extraordinary feat was a long time in the making.
A decade earlier, Michael had attributed his ill health to “being tired, dehydrated, maybe unfit”.
Via his GP he found a cardiologist, who recommended drugs to manage the episodes of atrial fibrillation (AF), or irregular heart beat.
Michael was still having symptoms a year later, and was referred to Cabrini cardiologist, Professor Peter Kistler.
A “life-changing” surgery soon followed, with Michael undergoing an ablation procedure.
He resumed his active lifestyle including surf lifesaving and water polo, and he took up winter swimming, testing himself on endurance events such as the 20km Rottnest Channel Swim in Perth.
“My son Sam, who is an elite swimmer, decided after the Rottnest swim that he’d sign me up for the English Channel swim,” Michael says.
“It was booked for 2020. You have to do a six hour qualifying swim, under 16 degrees, bathers only.
And you have to get a medical. But I failed the medical.”
At this point, Michael was diagnosed with another heart issue, SVT (supraventricular tachycardia) requiring further treatment.
After delays caused by COVID, he was finally ready to take the plunge.
“I was standing on the beach on these very hard English pebbles, looking at the sea thinking, ‘really?’ ”
Michael says the hardest part was that that he hadn’t thought of the swim as being “12 hours of concentration”.
“You can’t take a breath as a wave washes across you.”
After 12.5 hours of swimming, mostly in the pitch dark with “a continuous stream of fluorescent jellyfish” below him, Michael reached the coast of France.
“I keep thinking, ‘did I really do that?’ ” he says.
“The feeling at the end wasn’t complete exhaustion – I could have gone a little more if I’d had to – but it was complete elation.
“And there was a very emotional hug on the beach.”
Prof Kistler says Michael’s hard work and determination paid off in the end.
“Michael’s achievement is awesome and I am immensely proud of what he has conquered.”
To learn more about Cabrini Cardiac visit www.cabrini.com.au/cardiac/