Man whose heart stopped 32 times is now a boxing coach

Father, 64, whose heart stopped 32 TIMES in a day bounces back to become a boxing coach and ‘fitter than he was at 25’

  • Les Hackwell, from Gloucester, was resuscitated 32 times while in hospital
  • Now, 15 years later, he says he is fitter than ever and living his life to the full 
  • His condition was initially triggered by high blood pressure, he said
  • But he has since taken a less stressful job and made time for relaxation 

A man whose heart stopped 32 times when he was just 49 years old has now celebrated his 64th birthday against the odds and become a boxing coach.

Les Hackwell, from Gloucester, said he has always lived a healthy lifestyle but that a thyroid disorder gave him very high blood pressure.

Eleven years ago he collapsed in his living room at home and had to be rushed to hospital. While he was there his heart stopped and he had to be resuscitated.

This happened again while Mr Hackwell was on a ward on the same day, and then his heart stopped a shocking 32 times in the space of 20 minutes.  

He was brought back to life with a defibrillator every time, he says, and has now returned to be fighting fit and is in better shape than when he was 25.

Les Hackwell, a 64-year-old father of four, has bounced back to be fitter than ever after his heart stopped a massive 32 times when he was just 49

Mr Hackwell is now a coach at his local boxing gym and says he can keep up with people half his age, but cannot fight

‘They said at the end of two years that’s as fit as you are going to get, but I proved them wrong,’ Mr Hackwell, a father of four.

‘They did not know what I was made of. The body is one thing but the spirit is another and I was determined not to be beaten.

‘It’s not the dog in the fight that counts, it’s the fight in the dog. I’ve got plenty of fight and I’m fitter now than I was when I was 25.’

Mr Hackwell, who works as an engineer for an industrial machinery firm, says doctors told him he’d be lucky to live to his mid-50s.

But now fighting fit 15 years after his freak phase of heart attacks, he says he can go toe-to-toe with people half his age in the gym.

Although actually fighting would be too dangerous for him, he now teaches boxing classes twice a week.     


A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body, which is usually due to a problem with electrical signals in the organ.

This causes the brain to be starved of oxygen, which results in sufferers not breathing and losing consciousness.

In the UK, more than 30,000 cardiac arrests occur a year outside of hospital, compared to over 356,000 in the US.

Cardiac arrests are different to heart attacks, with the latter occurring when blood supply to the heart muscle is cut off due to a clot in one of the coronary arteries. 

Common causes include heart attacks, heart disease and heart muscle inflammation.

Drug overdose and losing a large amount of blood can also be to blame.

Giving an electric shock through the chest wall via a defibrillator can start the heart again. 

In the meantime, CPR can keep oxygen circulating around the body.

Apart from a few snatched snippets of conversation and faces, Mr Hackwell cannot remember much at all about his ordeal.

He was rushed to the specialist John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where he woke up to find his chest burned where the electric shock paddles had been used repeatedly. 

‘When I was recovering in hospital somebody in the next bed arrested twice and died,’ he said.

‘I asked why they did not keep going like they did with me and they said it was because their heart showed no signs of coming back to life. Mine did every time.

‘I survived because I was fit. The doctors said if I had not been as fit as I was I would not have pulled through.’

While Mr Hackwell was in hospital, doctors found a blocked artery and fitted a stent and then a second stent had to be fitted not long after. 

His journey back to fitness started when his family – his father to four daughters, Joanne, Rebecca, Natalie and Kimberley – bought him an exercise bike.

He had to change his job to do something less demanding and it was at least seven months before he could return to work.   

‘It was a long road back to recovery,’ he said.

‘When I was in hospital I wanted to know the prognosis and I was told that if I changed my lifestyle I would probably have five years.

‘I did not smoke, I did not drink, I exercised and never eat stupidly so I couldn’t think of what else to do. The only thing I could do was change my job. 

‘Unless you are the type of person to let things wash over you, having a stressful job is detrimental to your health.

‘I’m not that kind of person, I’m the kind of person who would be taking phone calls at midnight after a long day at work.’ 

Mr Hackwell said he was advised by a nurse to reconsider how hard he exercised, but he managed to start slow and build his way back to fitness.

He did – and continues to do – regular exercise, ate healthily and not after 6pm, and made sure he took time to relax with deep breathing exercises.  

Mr Hackwell said medics told him to be cautious about exercising too hard but that he now feels fitter than he was at 25

‘The exercise bike made a massive difference,’ he added.

‘For the first few months I could not do anything without the sweat dripping off me but I knew it would take two years and persevered.’ 

Mr Hackwell has no plans to give up work and will carry on as an engineer for as long as he can.

‘You have to get as much as you can out of life and to do that you need money,’ he explained.

‘If you are not well enough fair enough, but I want to work while I can. I’ve travelled all over the world and been to so many places it’s getting difficult to find somewhere we haven’t been to already. 

‘But sitting in a rocking chair gazing out the window just isn’t me.’        

Mr Hackwell said he had not expected to live to old age because his father died of a heart attack at 58, although his mother lived to 80.

He added: ‘Sometimes when I’m in the gym someone will say “calm down you are going to have a heart attack”, but I tell them I want to go while living life to the full.

‘I’m not a hero. The doctor told that if I feel a sharp pain that does not go away I should call an ambulance, and I would. But I’m not going to go sitting in a rocking chair.’

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