“HAVE I dodged a bullet? Absolutely”.
Those are the prophetic words of John “Shorty” Martiniello, who is planning to be at the footy today just a week after his brush with death and only a day after a phone call with the man who saved his life.
The Benalla great was clinically dead after suffering a heart attack during the third quarter of the reserves match between Benalla and Rochester last Saturday.
Martiniello is eternally grateful for two factors which saved his life — the host club, Rochester, had a defibrillator and someone was prepared to use it in a life or death moment.
That man was Athol Hann, who had only returned to Rochester earlier in the year after working in Western Australia in the intensive care ward of Royal Perth Hospital.
In another stroke of good fortune, Hann altered his normal routine of not watching the reserves game after preparing players for the senior game inside the rooms.
“He is one of the Rochester trainers and was in doing strapping and rub downs as he normally does,” Martiniello said.
“He generally has a breather when he is finished but luckily decided to come outside and watch a bit of the twos last week.
“He was watching for only two minutes and saw me go down.”
Hann and others worked on Martiniello until an ambulance arrived at the Rochester ground before he was eventually flown to The Alfred Hospital.
The match was abandoned and Martiniello’s two sons, James and Will, dropped out of the senior team to travel to Melbourne to be with other family members, including mum Vicky.
Martiniello, 55, returned home to Benalla on Wednesday and yesterday took a call from his saviour.
“I said to him ‘when I am well, we are going to catch up, but brace yourself’,” Martiniello said.
“‘I am just going to hug you as hard as I can’.”
Martiniello said events leading up to his near-death experience were nothing out of the ordinary.
The Goulburn Valley league uses club umpires at reserves level and Martiniello, the Benalla games record holder, relishes the weekly stint with the whistle.
He recalled feeling slightly lethargic early in the game and an unusual sensation developed near his elbow.
His last involvement in the game was muffing a ball up close to the boundary line which he remembers sparked some laughs and good-natured banter from players nearby.
But the situation became a whole lot more serious when he felt his body start to shut down moments later.
“I woke up with people all around me trying to pin me down,” he said.
“I was fighting them a little bit.
“But there were a few faces there I recognised and was happy to see.”
Surgery, which included the insertion of two stents, has been a success and Martiniello is left to count his blessings.
He remains sore in the rib area where the life-saving CPR took place.
But he considers any discomfort caused by laughing a small price to pay.
“The whole right side of my body has come out in a bruise,” he said.
“They are not broken, but are very tender.
“I’ve been whacked a few times in my playing days and it is right up there with the best ones I’ve copped.”
Aside from a constant wave of visitors and phone calls, Martiniello has taken time to reflect on what happened and the road ahead.
His brother Peter had a heart attack about five years ago, but there is no other history of heart issues in the family.
He urges all men to have regular check-ups of their vital organs.
“The best way I can put it is I once had a V8 motor,” he said.
“I’ve now got to learn to cope with a six- or four-cylinder motor.
“But I am happy with that.”
One of his short-term regrets is being unable to attend next week’s Ovens and Murray Hall of Fame night.
Last year Martiniello was the latest player from the former Demons inducted after playing 316 O and M games for Benalla before its decision to switch to the Goulburn Valley league at the end of 1997.
He won a sixth best and fairest in Benalla’s final season in the O and M.
The closest he came to playing in a premiership team was 1978 when one of his great mentors, Bill Sammon, took the club to the grand final, going down to Wangaratta Rovers.
Martiniello inherited Sammon’s No. 11 jumper upon his retirement.
Benalla hasn’t won a flag since 1973 when it beat North Albury, with Sammon one of the architects of the victory.
But Martiniello believes the club has its best chance of ending a 41-year premiership drought this season.
The Saints are sitting on top undefeated after nine rounds and play second-placed Shepparton Swans today.
James captains the senior team and Will’s return from Werribee has helped the resurgence.
“We are in a good spot and set ourselves up for the pointy end of the year,” he said.
“We’ve got some good players and most of them are all locals.
“They have pretty much made a pact to each other.”