A real life and death event spurs Western Australian family into action

Paioff family
Jordana Paioff, Con Paioff, Judy Paioff and Alex Paioff

Con Paioff, 57, has bounced back from the dead with a mission to save WA people who, like him, suffered a cardiac arrest.

At the same time, the Perth father-of-two is spearheading a campaign to protect St John Ambulance from being taken over by the State Government.

Following his death of 16 minutes, property specialist Con changed direction in his life, becoming a public campaigner and distributor of heart-starting defibrillators.

When his heart stopped, Con hit the floor at his home and wasn’t breathing. He was dead. When his wife, Judy, heard the thump, she sprang into action, phoning 000. 

Con explains: “The St John WA officer guided my son, Alex (32) and daughter, Jordana (26) on how to give me CPR. 

“They took turns providing chest compressions. The operator reassured them that they were doing the right thing and not to give up on me.”

Con was medically ‘dead’ when the ambulance arrived but, vitally, his family’s compressions kept his heart in a rhythm. St John Ambulance paramedics used a defibrillator to restart Con’s heart before rushing him to hospital.

“This could have been the end of my life but thanks to St John WA and my children, it wasn’t.”

Con has set-up a website, calling for names on a petition to lobby government. With thousands of names, it’s continuing into next year.

“St John is being called into question by a Parliamentary Standing Committee Inquiry into the delivery of its ambulance services.”

The committee has begun work and its report is expected next March.

“My fear is the St John WA services will be negatively impacted if we try and emulate other states that aren’t the same as WA,” Con said.

Some States control ambo services through health departments whereas St John WA has been independent for 125 years.

“Why would we risk a disruption with the ambulance service that’s saved so many lives and we’ve come to trust,” Con said.

Premier Mark McGowan and Health Minister Roger Cook, have praised St John’s, but Con said this didn’t mean they wouldn’t support a change-of-direction.

St John Ambulance WA, responsible for receiving all 000 calls requiring ambulance attendance, covers the largest landmass in the world with one single ambulance service. Every year they handle more than 335,000 ambulance cases.

“It’s now our turn to support St John,” says Con.

Kalgoorlie-born Con and his retired father, John, were familiar faces around Mount Lawley where they ran a property management business, after John retired as a prominent tailor in Kalgoorlie.

Con believes work stresses contributed to his cardiac arrest and realises that many others are, and will be, in the same position he was confronting death.

“Fire extinguishers are far more common than defibrillators at WA work and public places, yet ‘defibs’ just as important – probably more important – but aren’t that widespread.

“Most doctors’ surgeries don’t have a defib, despite evidence that those with them have saved many lives,” he said.

Con said that while heart attacks have warnings and allow more time to act, cardiac arrests are sudden when systems shut down, requiring immediate action.

“Defibs are easy to use, can be transported and cost about the same as a flat screen television set ($1,900 to $3,000). They are easy to maintain, needing only a new, cheap battery every four or five years,” he said.

“What saved my life was quick action by Judy calling 000, the St John operator talking through procedures, my kids maintaining the CPR rhythm and paramedics using the defibrillator.

“Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. You never think it will happen to you,” he said. 

Con said all his family members had taken St John courses and he and Judy would take more in support of their new venture, distributing life-saving defibrillators.

The petition is at www.change.org/supportstjohnwa