Pursuit of Passion – how a brush with death taught Mark to live

What would your biggest regret be if you thought your life was coming to an end? For Mark Otter, it was not truly living his passions.

While on a bush walk with his brother-in-law in 2009, Mark experienced unprecedented bouts of breathlessness and lethargy.

The symptoms persisted into the next day and eventually led to Mark’s hospitalisation.Following days of intense testing, Mark was confronted with a devastating revelation.“You have severe Coronary Artery Disease,” the cardiologist said. “Your coronary arteries are blocked up to 95%.”

Mark was speechless. It couldn’t be him, the cardiologist must have made a mistake! He had hoped he was wrong, prayed he was wrong, but deep down . . . Mark knew it was the truth.Mark had a family history of cardiovascular disease – every male of the Otter family had suffered from heart problems for at least two generations. He thought he would be the one to break the trend, yet so severe was his condition that the doctor wouldn’t even let him walk around the ward in fears of triggering a fatal heart attack.

Mark made a list of everyone he wanted to be informed of his death and made sure that his children knew the details of his will … and that he loved them. “I thought that my life was over.” Mark told Heart Support-Australia. “I doubted that I would survive the operation and if I did, my previously active life wouldn’t be so active anymore and won’t be worth living.”

As Mark awaited his quadruple coronary artery bypass operation, he pondered whether he had lived life to its fullest.

A Second Chance

Luckily, Mark’s heart surgery was a success and he was able to complete cardiac rehabilitation. He was given support from members of Heart Support Australia. They helped him regain his confidence and begin to realise he still had a future. Following his discharge, Mark made the monumental decision to escape the stresses of his successful occupation and started living his dreams. “I gave up my old career and looked around for something that I really enjoyed doing – and that was, still is, and will always be swimming. So I gained my swimming instructor licence, got my qualifications as a coach and lifeguard trainer and became a surf lifesaver.” At 62, Mark proudly became the oldest graduate of his surf lifesaving course and the oldest active member at his local club –and he can still out-swim many of the youngsters!​In 2014, Mark competed in what many open water swimmers considered to be the holy grail of open water swimming – a swim through the Dardanelles, the strait in Turkey that links the Gallipoli peninsula on the western side to the eastern side. In other words, Mark swam from Europe to Asia!

Nowadays, Mark happily spends his time teaching new migrants how to swim.“No one on their death bed wishes that they had spent more time in the office.” Mark said with a smile. “Life is not a spectator sport; it is intended to be lived to the full. Get out there and live life – it’s the only one you are going to get and there is so much living to do and so much to be gained by living it to the full.” “Start ticking off your bucket list, do the things that you are passionate about!”​

Loving life

“Not long after I started doing my surf lifesaving patrols, one of the youngsters noticed my surgery scar. ‘How did you get that?’ he asked.

"A shark, I responded dryly – to which I got lots of ‘cools, wows and awesomes’.”

“I didn’t let the day finish until I had corrected this little fib but I did ask my cardiac surgeon whether next time he could consider doing the cut in a semi-circle.” Mark smiled.

“He said that he would consider it.”

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