K rock Football

Glenn’s road to recovery

Glenn Keast celebrates last year’s GFL premiership. (Sports Media Image/Marcel Berens)

ELIZA Keast thought the phone call was a prank.

Less than an hour earlier she’d hugged her dad Glenn to wish him a happy 50th birthday before he headed off to take training in his role as co-coach of GFL reigning premier St Mary’s.

“He said, ‘don’t hug me too tight, I’m getting a bit old’, which is something we’d been joking about – getting to 50, he was ageing a bit,” the youngest member of the Keast clan recalled of the morning of May 30.

But the phone call from Glenn’s coaching partner and best mate, Travis Robertson, intended for Glenn’s wife Carolyn was no joke.

“He goes, ‘oh, hi Macca (Carolyn, whose maiden name McFarlane lends itself to her nickname)’. I said, ‘Robbo, it’s Eliza’, and he goes, ‘I think your Dad’s had a heart attack’,” she said.

SLIDING DOORS

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions around visitors at private residences meant Glenn only had plans for an intimate gathering of some close friends to mark his milestone at his Highton home.

However, he knew some exercise needed to be done before he started imbibing that afternoon.

“The plan was to get a bit of sweat up,” the two-time Mathieson medallist said.

“I was initially going to go for a run around the (Barwon) river and then decided against that and had breakfast.

“That was probably the last vivid memory I’ve got.”

Keast knows it may have been a different outcome had he been somewhere along the winding banks of the Barwon rather than at Anthony Costa Oval when he went into cardiac arrest.

“I’ve certainly given it some thought, in terms of where I was location-wise,” he said. “And the boys (sons Tom and Matt) being there initially and the nurse walking by.

“Then it was six minutes for the ambulance to get there. Had I walked or run along the river, and something happened, it might have been a whole different story in terms of timeframes.

“For cardiac arrest, seconds and minutes matter. Absolutely, it was a sliding doors moment.

“Whether it happened or not because of the intensity I was training, I don’t know. I still haven’t been able to find out what was the reason for that.

“We’ll never know, I suppose.”

PARTY PLANNING

AS Glenn Keast was getting himself involved in St Mary’s training, Carolyn was putting into action a surprise project she had been working on to celebrate her husband’s birthday.

“I had been creating a ‘50 gifts for Keasty’s 50th’,” she said. “As soon as he walked out the door, Eliza and I decided to set up the lounge room floor with the No.50 in 50 gifts.

“Glenn’s not really a person to fuss too much about himself. He gives a lot to us as a family, and works really hard, and is really dedicated to football.

“So we just wanted to do something a little bit different and a little bit extra special to say ‘we really love you and appreciate everything you do for us’.

“We started to get really busy, and I had it timed nicely that by the time he got home from football training, it would be ready to go as a surprise.

“Eliza and I were going to pick up food and balloons. At about 9:20am that all got halted when Robbo rang us.”

THAT’S NOT REALLY NORMAL

MATT Keast was on the netball court side of the ground, in front of the scoreboard, when his attention turned to his dad.

“I just saw him out of the corner of my eye stumble around a little bit,” Matt said. “Then he went down on his haunches, and he fell just straight backwards, and I’m like, ‘that’s not really normal’.

“As soon as I saw that, I sprinted straight over to him and yelled for everyone to stop. Everyone was like, ‘what’s going on?’.

“There were 30 seconds of you don’t know what to do – it’s just sinking in. And then you’ve got to do something; you just can’t let him lie down.

“I started working on him, and they took everyone else away. Luckily enough, after a couple of minutes, the nurse came by, and she really helped.

“I’ve done a CPR course, but it was a while ago. She helped me get deeper and allow some oxygen back in that I wouldn’t have allowed in with the compressions.”

BACK STRETCHES

UNLIKE his brother, Tom Keast didn’t see his dad collapse.

“I led for a ball and basically ran around him,” Tom said. He was on the ground, and I thought he was just stretching his back because he actually does that quite a bit.

“And then I saw Matty dart across in front of me and go to him, and then it kicked in ‘something’s wrong here’.

“I heard him moaning, and Matty was working on him, and I couldn’t do too much after that. I was kneeling next to him and talking to him until the nurse got there.

“You could see considerable improvement when the nurse arrived.”

C’MON MATE, NOT TODAY

CAROLYN didn’t know what to expect when she arrived at the ground.

She recalls telling Robertson to get the defibrillator from inside the clubrooms before their call was disconnected.

“We were driving quite blind, not knowing what to expect when we turned up,” Carolyn said.

“When I got to the corner of Noble Street and Latrobe Terrace, I started panning to find them – ‘are they in a group? Where are they?’

“Then I saw the ambulance and the fire engine. Then I saw the white suits and I saw them working on Glenn on the oval, which is not what I was expecting.

“I looked at the time and thought, ‘that’s been a fair bit of time’, and I started rallying – it’s a bit of what we do as a family.

“We just chant and cheer each other on. Even in the car, I was starting my little, ‘c’mon mate, not today. This isn’t what we’re doing. You’re going to be OK’.

IS THAT THE LAST TIME I WOULD SEE HIM?

With the assistance of the nurse, Matt had done all he could to keep his dad alive and was able to hand over duties to paramedics who had rushed from their base on McKillop Street to continue the work he had done.

That’s when an unwanted reality kicked in for Matt.

“As soon as they came, they took us away to near the netball courts, and we went for a walk with Dylan McMahon and Robbo,” he said.

“That was probably the worst bit about it for me. The fact I was there and was able to be with him, but then to be taken away, you start getting these thoughts in your head; ‘is that the last time I would see him?’.

“So, that was the hardest bit about it because you just don’t know if he’s dead or alive at that time, which was kind of annoying.

“But, they (paramedics) did what they had to do.”

THE LOCAL GRAPEVINE WHIRLS INTO ACTION

As Carolyn and her three children made the short trip from the ground to the Emergency Department of Geelong Hospital, her phone was constantly pinging, as word started to spread across the city that her husband had a fight on his hands.

“I was receiving text messages of love and support, and ‘oh my god, I can’t believe what I just heard. Is this true?’ – a lot of that, too,” Carolyn said.

“We train a lot together, and he’s super-fit. It certainly wasn’t anything any of us would have expected to happen.

“You never know what’s going to happen one day when you wake up.

“I think I had over 350 text messages and (Facebook) Messenger messages of support from family, friends, people that you connect with and then you lose track of; but you’re always connected.”

HOSPITAL

On arrival at the hospital, the Keasts were whisked into a private room where they were greeted by Dr Jeremy Friend, who explained Glenn’s situation.

He had been placed into a coma to help doctor’s manage the situation.

“They put him into the coma to relax him a bit because he was getting a bit agitated – he was trying to walk around and get out of there,” Matt said.

However, it would be an hour before Carolyn and her three children were able to see him.

“They hooked him up to so many machines and things like that, and they were amazing to allow us, as an immediate family, and to allow Glenn’s mum and his brother and sister, to go and see him before they took him for a brain scan,” Carolyn said.

“They then came back and told us there was no brain bleed, so it wasn’t a stroke. They were starting a process of elimination.

“They then looked for any (heart) blockages, and if there were they would have put a stent in straight away. But they came back to let us know that that wasn’t evident.

“They then transferred him up to ICU. From there, we all headed out of ED (emergency department) and up to the ICU.

“The boys went home to shower and change, and we stayed up there until they had him pretty much set up and organised. We then got to see him again as a family; we were able to talk to him.”

UNPACK AND DEBRIEF

Arriving home not long after 7 o’clock on Saturday night, Carolyn, Tom, Matt and Eliza sat down and “started to unpack and debrief the day”.

“I really wanted to tap into the kids because, as a parent, one of your greatest roles is to protect your kids from as much as you can,” Carolyn said.

“And I apologised to them in a way because I couldn’t do that for them, and they were amazing. I said to Glenn, ‘if you could have seen, you would have been super proud of the three children that you’ve raised’.

“Everything from the moment I saw the boys at the oval, they were amazing. We’re pretty lucky that we are a close family; we spend a lot of time together.

“I just wanted to make sure they were OK. So, we had a little bit of a chat that night about what are things are going to look like and how do they feel?

“Even things like ‘is Dad going to wake up OK?’. I said, ‘I don’t know. But it won’t matter. It’s Dad, and we’ll just face those hurdles if we have them’.

THINK OUTSIDE THE SQUARE

Carolyn was on the phone to North Shore legend Max Evans discussing Glenn’s situation when her husband’s mobile rang.

It was the hospital calling to tell the family that Glenn had gone into cardiac arrest again.

“So, the four of us packed up and rang his mum, and his brother and sister, and headed back into ICU,” Carolyn said.

“They had done another four minutes of CPR. They’d done two minutes of CPR, and they got Glenn back. Then they did another two minutes just to make sure he was OK.

“At that stage, the ICU doctor came back after going home, and they decided to put some cannulas into Glenn’s groins. At this stage, they still couldn’t pinpoint why this was happening.

“I did say – I was a bit demanding – ‘the one thing about this guy lying in this bed in front of us, he thinks outside the square’. There’s nothing that he often gets confronted with that he says, ‘well, that’s the only answer; that’s the only way we can do it’.

“So, whether it’s work, dealing with anything in the family, or whether it’s football, he thinks outside the square all the time. I said, ‘all I’m asking you tonight is to really think outside the square. Just give him the opportunity to be with us and to keep living’.

“So, just don’t think, ‘well, I’ve ticked that box, that’s done’. So, I did probably ask a bit.”

COVID, COMA AND DOUBLE COBRAS

Adding another layer to the complexity surrounding Glenn Keast’s situation was the COVID-19 situation at the time.

He had started to come out of the coma on the Sunday, and his medication was being reduced. However, doctors wanted to test him for the coronavirus, which meant keeping him in isolation until his test result came back negative.

“I got to come in, and I was worried he wasn’t going to know who I was,” Carolyn said. “I was worried that he might not be able to talk. I wasn’t really sure.

“They had a whiteboard in there, and they gave me a whiteboard. So, they were able to write to me some of the things that Glenn said. And I was able to write to him, and they relayed the information. Then I knew he knew it was me.

“I did take a video of him, and I wanted to share that with just our family to show them that he was awake.

“That bender he was on, those drugs did some really crazy things to him. He was making some very funny gestures.

“The double-cobra was one that he did, and that was the one I got on video. And I sent that to Robbo, who circulated that to the wider community, which I didn’t realise was going to happen.

“I thought, ‘oh, my god, he might not like that’. But, it provided us with a bit of a laugh and moment to just smile.”

OUT OF ISOLATION

As he started to regain his faculties and came out of isolation in early June, Glenn had lots of questions.

What happened? Why am I here?

“I think I relayed the same story ten times in half-an-hour because he just didn’t remember,” Carolyn said.

“You had a cardiac arrest. It’s not a heart attack. Where? It was at the football. Sand-so called to see how you are. Why? What happened to me?”.

“There was a lot of ‘is this normal? Am I going to get the Glenn we know back?’ And as days and days went on, we got the Glenn we know back.”

GLENN’S INSURANCE POLICY

Under the skin, just below Glenn’s left shoulder sits a battery-operated Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD).

Studies have shown the ICD can play a key role in preventing cardiac arrest in high-risk patients who haven’t had, but are at risk of, life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias.

“The biggest component of this device is it’s there to basically administer a shock if my heart goes into that crazy arrhythmia again,” Glenn said.

“That’s been put in essentially — hopefully I never need it — but it’s there if it happens again. I’d have that there as an insurance policy.

“I’ve got an appointment with the cardiologist on August 20. They’ve talked about doing a stress test.

“There’s one vessel they’ve identified that is… he described it as not significant but not insignificant.

“Therefore, he wants to evaluate that under stress and work out whether that needs a stent or not.”

GRADUAL BUILD

Glenn has confirmed he will return coaching alongside Robertson at St Mary’s for the 2021 season.

But before then he will make his return to work at Cotton On where he holds a role as a Group Executive as his recovery continues.

“In terms of recovery, whether it’s physical or from a faculty point of view, getting back into work and things like that, everything they’ve described to do in graduation, so start slow and build,” he said.

“That’s been the mantra I’ve followed and will follow over the course of the next few months.

“He  (cardiologist Chin Hiew) said there is no reason you can’t get back to doing everything you were doing beforehand. Right now, I have no thoughts I wouldn’t be doing anything other than what I’ve probably done in the past.

“From a work point of view, everything should be pretty normal. The prognosis is really positive. I’m sure I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life as a preventer-type thing.

“The device, the battery has to be changed every 11 years, so hopefully I have to go in and have a few changes.”

AMBASSADOR ROLE FOR KEAST

Twitter: @tom_king79 with @stevesmithffx