On Tuesday, 16 October, SCAS staff, volunteers and partners once again took part in International Restart a Heart Day. The event is a designated annual day of action with the aim to teach vital life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills to as many people as possible. This year’s event was the first time it had gone global, with support from resuscitation councils covering North, Central and South America, South Africa, Asia, New Zealand as well as the European resuscitation councils that had historically marked the day of action.
Under the guidance of Nic Morecroft, Head of Operations – Community Engagement and Training at SCAS, this year’s Restart a Heart Day was the most successful one to date in the South Central region. Over 50 schools took part on the day – from north Oxfordshire to the Hampshire coast – and 8,170 people were trained in life-saving CPR; a 44% increase on the 2017 event.
Nic Morecroft said:
“A huge thank you to everyone who turned out to take part in teaching CPR to school and college children in various locations across our four counties. The aim of the international event was to train 200,000 young people globally this year and with your help we exceeded this figure. I was also particularly pleased that we so dramatically increased the number of young people trained in our region compared to last year. Well done everyone and I look forward to seeing you all again next year!”
The training sessions at many of the region’s schools were featured in local press and radio station bulletins, and BBC South TV came along to Highdown School & Sixth Form Centre in Reading, Berkshire, for a very special re-union.
Gary and Helen Weller arrived at the school in the morning to meet the team that saved Gary’s life when he went into cardiac arrest at home in Caversham on the evening of 22 March. Gary had been suffering the symptoms of a heart attack and both he, and initially Helen, had been on the phone to Emergency Call Taker, Sian Faulkner. Recognising the seriousness of the symptoms being described, Sian along with Control Shift Officer, Phil Worrall, quickly arranged for help to come straight to the couple’s home.
Lou Edwards and Tanya Cantrell, military co-responders based at MOD Corsham, were the first to arrive with Gary and Helen, and they were soon backed up by an ambulance with Clinical Mentor Felicity Lupton-Smith, Emergency Care Assistant Alex Pullan, and Student Paramedic Richard Baxendale on board.
Tanya adds: “Lou and I were dispatched and the information we were given was that our patient was experiencing chest pains. We carried out some initial observations on Gary and were even joking with him as he was afraid he wasn’t going to get his bacon roll for dinner!”
“Talking with Gary and Helen”, says Lou, “we noted the history of his chest pains which Gary told us he had been suffering the day before as well. We were still chatting with them both and recording observations when the ambulance team arrived and we began our handover to Felicity, Alex and Richard.
Felicity picks up what happened next.
“We had begun some additional observations using the equipment that we brought with us, such as an ECG to check Gary’s heart rate, as well as giving Gary some pain relief. This had been going on for only 5-10 minutes after we got there when Gary suddenly went into cardiac arrest.”
With a confirmed cardiac arrest, Team Leader, Jack Phillips-Lord, was then also despatched by the emergency control room team.
“The crew requested the LUCAS device – a really useful piece of equipment as it then continues CPR on the patient which frees up the staff to continue other life-saving treatment”, says Jack. “It also makes it easier and safer to transport the patient to hospital as the device can continue delivering CPR on a patient as they are being taken to the emergency department under blue lights.”
Helen said: “I’ve never seen such a brilliantly co-ordinated team. Everyone sprang into action and they fought for eight minutes when Gary had no pulse and got him back. It was the longest eight minutes of my life. I was in such a state of shock but they were all amazing. We both really wanted to meet up with everyone again to say thank you personally. I made a cake for the guys – it’s not much of a swap for my husband! But without their brilliant actions Gary wouldn’t be here today.”
Tanya was particularly praised by colleague, Lou, for how well she also looked after Helen. “In my view, that was probably the hardest part of the job that night. Seeing a loved one like that is traumatic and Tanya’s management of Helen’s emotions and needs, along with the compassion she showed, was something that you cannot train for and will only get through life skills.”
Jack was dispatched from Maidenhead, where he had been attending a previous incident, and when he arrived the team had already achieved a ROSC (Return of Spontaneous Circulation) and Gary was already in the ambulance. He handed the ambulance crew the LUCAS device in case he went into cardiac arrest again, and followed the ambulance to hospital for additional support. Gary spent five weeks in the Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and doesn’t remember anything from around a week before his collapse, nor his initial weeks in hospital.
“The first thing I remember”, adds Gary, “is hearing Helen’s voice saying ‘squeeze my hand’. I could hear her in the distance and tried to do it, but couldn’t initially – it took me ages to finally do it. As I got better I wanted to do as much for myself as I could, but it was a struggle. Once I was out of ICU I couldn’t walk at first as my muscle strength had all gone, and there was one day when I decided I wanted to have a shower and got Helen absolutely soaked! After getting back home, I’ve recovered more quickly and I’m even able to do a bit of gym work now. I’m not 100% where I was before it happened but I’m just very pleased to be here still. It’s amazing what the guys in the ambulance service do.”
After an emotional re-union with the SCAS team, Gary and Helen joined them in the school’s assembly hall and Helen got some hands-on CPR training from Felicity. The couple were both very keen to raise awareness not just of the importance of how everyone should learn these life-saving skills, but Helen in particular wanted to feel confident she would know what to do if something similar happened in the future.
Lou adds: “Meeting Gary again, along with the rest of the SCAS team, was emotional and demonstrating CPR to the students at Highdown on the same day reinforced the message that these skills are vital and save lives. Over the ten years the MOD Corsham Military Responders have worked with SCAS, we have built up a trusted and well-rehearsed response and Gary’s recovery is testament to that.”
It was an equally rewarding experience for the SCAS staff. Student Paramedic Richard said:
“This was a great learning experience for me, being able to use the skills I have learnt in university and out in practice and to be able to make a life changing situation. This was a great outcome for everyone that was involved and this was a very rewarding job. It was a great reward to be able to meet Gary and Helen after the incident and for Gary to relay what happened and what part of the process he remembers. As a whole team we were very pleased with the outstanding recovery that Gary had made after his cardiac arrest. For me it’s the job I love doing and I am so pleased I can make a difference in patient care.”
And Felicity added:
“It was really great to be able to meet up with Gary and Helen after the incident, as this rarely happens. We were all particularly pleased to see what a good recovery Gary had made after his cardiac arrest, as this is even more of a rarity. For me, it is a clear demonstration of why I choose to do what I do, and the difference it can make.”
As they say their goodbyes, Helen tells the team that she and Gary wake up every morning and appreciate having another day together.
“We try to do something every day – a small pleasure – because we really know how lucky we are.”
“Though I never did get my bacon roll!” adds Gary with a smile.