From L to R - Alex Mason, Bob Mason, Emma Rothera, Andy Cowan, Iain Scott, Janey Dixon, John Tierney

Response trained coastguards save lives

Hours after a team of coastguard co-responders finished their first day of training from North East Ambulance Service (NEAS), they came across their first patient.


Artist and owner of Impressions Art Gallery, 62 year old John Tierney from Holy Island, was at work his art gallery when he started to experience tightness across his chest.

Nine hours prior, six coastguard staff on the island began intense training with NEAS on how to manage life threatening emergencies, such as chest pain, breathing difficulties, cardiac arrest, strokes and unconsciousness.

HM coastguards Emma Rothera and Andy Cowan were returning from their first day of co-responder training when they came across fellow islander John Tierney, who it was later confirmed was suffering from a heart attack.

Co-responders exist in cities, towns and villages where it may be a challenge for the emergency ambulance to arrive within the crucial first few minutes. Their aim is to provide immediate care to a patient where every second counts; a patient who suffers a cardiac arrest stands a much better chance of survival if someone with a defibrillator can attend the patient in the first minutes of collapse.

John says, “I started to feel really strong pains and tightness in my chest. As I haven’t had a heart attack before, I thought I might have acid reflux or indigestion so I went for a walk to try and ease the pain. I came back in to the gallery and waited for pain to pass as I didn’t want to bother anybody.

“At the exact moment I opened the door to leave the gallery to get some help the HM Coastguard vehicle pulled up across the road. I went over to Emma and Andy and told them I really didn’t feel well and I had a lot of tightness across my chest.”

Once inside the gallery co-responder Emma began checking John’s vital signs and called for support.

Based in Berwick, paramedic Janey Dixon, who has been with the Trust for 11 years, attended the scene, accompanied by emergency care assistant Iain Scott to take John to Cramlington hospital.

Janey Dixon explains, “We had just left Berwick when we received the call to Holy Island. When we reached John he was in the gallery supported by the co-responders who were keeping him calm and managing his pain. I think that the situation could have been very different had John not had their support as he became quite anxious once he entered the ambulance.

“It has been great to meet back up with John in his normal surroundings and see him doing so well because we don’t often get the opportunity to follow up with patients once we have taken them to hospital.”

Emma Rothera, HM coastguard and co-responder added, “With living and working on the island and being in such close proximity to residents, the training we received to become co-responders really can’t be measured. It made a difference to John and hopefully many more like him in the future.”

Alex Mason, NEAS community development officer and Bob Mason, a paramedic and clinical education and development officer who volunteered to help deliver training, were on the island when they were called to help John. Alex says, “Holy Island is an island cut off from the main land twice a day by the tide, with a population of around 160 permanent residents with hundreds of thousands of visitors and having responders on the island provides even more support to patients and our crews.

“A responder’s role may be to simply provide vital reassurance to patients and their families but in extreme cases such as a cardiac arrest, they may be able to perform CPR and use a defibrillator to deliver a shock to the person’s heart that will make an enormous difference their patient’s chance of survival and the quality of their life in recovery.

“This is the first time I have seen co-responders use their new skills within the first 24 hours of training. It was great to see the co-responders have confidence in their ability to deal with this kind of incident as they used the training we had given them and it struck both of us how professional and calm they were. It was a privilege to be part of the team that night.

John later had an operation to have a stent inserted into the artery in his heart at the Freeman Hospital. After resting for a few days he returned home and now says he is in better health than before the heart attack.

He ends, “The crew were very reassuring on the way to hospital and did all they could to get me there as quick as possible. I can go walking a lot more than I could six months ago, I used to get out of breath so easily but now I can do the things I love like walking and running.”

Share this page

Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

Back to top

Enable Recite