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Fighting fit Greens MP sidelined by major heart surgery

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SA Greens stalwart Mark Parnell will miss the next two parliamentary sitting weeks after what he calls “an unplanned hospital visit” ended in a quadruple-bypass heart surgery.

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The fighting fit 59-year-old told InDaily: “I’ve got a bad family history of hearts, as a lot of us have.”

“There are some things you can control, and some things you can’t,” he says.

“I’m a fairly fit person – a marathon runner… I run 100 to 200 kilometres a month [and] regularly get out there on the trails as part of the regime to counter my genetic history.”

On Easter Saturday, however, he set out on a 10 kilometre run, only to find himself out of breath after the first few hundred metres.

He asked his wife, former Greens senator and SA Guardian for Children and Young People Penny Wright, to drop him at Flinders Medical Centre. He was operated on the following Tuesday.

“I guess the genetics have caught up, because there were a number of arteries restricted,” he reflects.

He acknowledges that a quadruple-bypass “sounds pretty dramatic” but laughs that “they just rip some bits out of your legs and arms” to replace the worn arteries.

“Apparently we all have ‘spare parts’,” he says.

“The main issue for me now is that it’s time off work.”

He’s given himself four weeks off, taking in the federal election campaign and two state parliamentary sitting weeks – during which the Greens will be offered a pair in any divisions, to ensure voting in the crossbench-controlled Legislative Council is not affected.

Senior Liberal MLC Rob Lucas told InDaily: “Absolutely we’ll respect his vote on any issue and [provide a] pair if that’s required”.

It’s understood progress on the Government’s encryption bill – which would give police powers to access mobile phones and other devices suspected of containing child exploitation material – may be delayed in the meantime, given Parnell has championed several amendments designed to protect civil liberties.

In an email sent to his Upper House colleagues yesterday – entitled ‘No appearance, Your Worship?’ – Parnell made light of his situation, joking “it certainly wasn’t how I planned to spend Easter and the following week”.

“I would often joke when being sprung in my running gear in the corridors about to head off for an 8k run around the Torrens, ‘this exercise business will either keep me alive or kill me’.

“I’m pleased to report, it’s the former,” he wrote.

Parnell running at Mount Crawford.

“It didn’t stop my terrible genetic heritage catching up with me, but being otherwise fairly healthy, some new plumbing was fitted and I hope to be back amongst you in a few weeks…

“In the meantime, if you are lost for inspiration on how you should vote, just ask yourself, “What would Mark do?”

While Parnell himself wasn’t averse to a quicker return, he notes “all the advice is that people who rush back to work, with all that entails, it usually ends badly”.

“So I’m taking four weeks,” he says.

With major surgery only last week – “a circular saw down the chest,” he explains – he admits “I do run out of puff and have to lie down several times a day”.

“I guess the thing is, I was fairly fit to start with – I was doing a half-marathon most weekends for a while there, and the shortest run I ever do is about five kilometres… If I was a bricklayer, it would be a bit different but to sit at a desk and re-engage in parliament, four weeks is about right.”

He says he’s been told “you’re back doing what you were doing before in about 12 weeks” and intends to honour his registration to run in the Australian Masters Games in October.

In fact, he’s hoping his re-wiring might “in some ways work a bit better” and “I’ll be fitter and faster than ever”.

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