Ricky May opens up about the day he 'died' on live TV

Carabella and and driver Ricky May. Photo by Tayler Strong.
Carabella and and driver Ricky May. Photo by Tayler Strong.
Ricky May can now laugh at the fact he died on live television last week.

He can't laugh too hard though, because of the broken ribs he got from the guardian angel horsewoman who probably saved his live.

And even after one of the most shocking incidents in harness racing history, the champion harness racing driver is adamant he will return to the sulky.

May stunned the racing world last Thursday when he collapsed mid-race and fell to the track when driving A G's White Socks in the $30,000 Central Otago Cup at Omakau.

His heart had stopped and thousands watching live and on television feared the worst. Initially, they were right.

Ricky May was dead.

"The doctor in Dunedin Hospital told me later that I was gone," May told the New Zealand Herald from his Christchurch Hospital bed on Thursday.

"I don't know how long for. They reckon it could have been 10 minutes. I don't remember anything.

"I remember driving a winner earlier (two hours before the incident) and then the next thing I remember was waking up in hospital with all my family there and that was two days later."

From what the doctors at the hospital and those first to him on track have told him, May knows he had no heart beat when fellow driver Ellie Barron rushed to his side.

Barron, a trained physiotherapist, performed CPR on him, working so hard to keep his heart pumping she broke his ribs. She may also have saved his life.

"I spoke to Ellie yesterday and when she got to me I had no heart beat.

"She just took over 'til the medics got there and used the paddles (defibrillators) on me. To be honest, I think Ellie was my saviour."

First, one helicopter came, then another; the second was needed because it was equipped with the GPS to navigate through the fog to get the 61-year-old to Dunedin Hospital.

He was stabilised there and before being flown to Christchurch Hospital a few days later where he had surgery to have a cardioverter defibrillator implanted in his chest on Thursday.

The device delivers a shock through a wire which runs into a chamber of the heart and May will have it in his chest for the rest of his life in case his heart stops suddenly again.

May's heart stopped without warning, and his official diagnosis was hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy.

If you don't know what that is you are not alone - May doesn't really either.

It is a sometimes genetic condition that can see the heart muscles thicken even though the heart itself is healthy, even affecting young athletes at the peak of their physical prowess.

May was in shape and very active. He had no warning of what could happen and seconds before the incident was talking normally.

"The doctors told me there was nothing actually wrong with my heart and I didn't have an cardiac arrest. They actually said I am too fit and the muscles around that area too strong.

"But to honest I don't know a lot about it. I'm still learning."

What May knows is that he is alive to enjoy life with his wife Judy and his three children.

"I have a lot of people to thank. Ellie of course, the medics there and the helicopter people, all the staff at the two hospitals and the people who flew me from Dunedin to here.

"So many people have contacted us it is quite overwhelming. And Judy has been a rock.

"But now it is done I want to get back to the farm, even though I won't be able to work for a while. The boys are taking care of that at the moment."

The farm at Methven may be home but the sulky is May's domain, a throne from which he has driven a record seven New Zealand Cup wins among his 2949 winners in New Zealand alone.

He wants that get that number to 3000, maybe more.

"Yeah, I want to drive again," he says.

"I didn't think I would want to after the initial shock of it all but now I have had a chance to think about it I don't want that to be my last race drive.

"So maybe I will travel less, maybe stay a little closer to home but I will go back to driving."

Less than a week after his heart stopped mid-race and a nation of racing fans held their breath, May can laugh now. The nervous laugh of a man who has been given a second chance. The laugh of the lucky.

"I suppose one day I will want to see the race, to see what happened. But not yet."

But while he is a husband, father, farmer and friend, May is also inherently a race driver. That can't be scared out of him.

"You know, I am sure I would have won that race once he (A G's White Socks) led," he says wistfully.

In one sentence Ricky May confirms he will be back. You can bet on it.



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