Durham Prison arrest

A civil servant who suffered a cardiac arrest at work has thanked his colleagues and NEAS

A civil servant who suffered a cardiac arrest at the gym at work has reunited with his colleagues and North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) to say thank you for saving his life.

Joe McIlwraith started his day at work as normal on 18 July last year with a workout at the employee gym at HMP Durham when he collapsed suddenly.

The 52-year-old, from Newton Hall, Durham, said: “All I remember was being on the rowing machine and I didn’t feel any sudden pains before I collapsed. 

“I don’t remember much else about that day as I woke up in hospital days later, it's all a bit blurry but I know that a lot of people helped me and I was told they worked on me for a couple of hours at the scene.”

Joe’s colleagues, Tracy Walker, Chris Carson and Colin Brown immediately rushed to his side and rang 999 where they got through to NEAS call operator, Julie Hetherington.

With support from Julie, Colin and Chris started CPR on Joe and shocked him with a defibrillator before the ambulance arrived and his colleague Rebecca Holdsworth directed the ambulance to the gym building. 

Chris, who has worked with Joe for two years, said: “I turned to see Joe was slumped to the side of the rowing machine. On calling 999, Julie advised us to get the defibrillator as Joe wasn’t breathing. Using the defibrillator was surprisingly really easy, it gave us clear instructions and we were all able to help Joe as much as we could before the ambulance arrived.”

North East Ambulance Service emergency care assistant Denis Canavan and advanced technician Ian Daley were the first on scene. They took over CPR from Joe’s colleagues and shocked him with a defibrillator, gaining a return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) before rapid response paramedic Lauren Wilding arrived to stabilise him.  

Once Joe was stabilised, the Great North Air Ambulance Service was called to assist the crews and the on board doctor placed Joe into an induced coma before Denis and Ian transported him by road ambulance to University Hospital of North Durham.  Joe was later transferred to the Freeman Hospital where he had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which can also act as a pacemaker, fitted.

Joe is on a long road to recovery but has been determined to return to work so he could personally thank all those involved in saving his life.

Lauren said: “When I arrived Denis and Ian had managed to get a ROSC and Joe was trying to breathe on his own. I quickly put an IV access into his arm and connected him to the heart monitors and gave him oxygen to help his breathing.

“It was really important that Joe’s colleagues were able to start CPR and use the defibrillator on him before we arrived as without their help, the outcome may have been very different.

“It has been really great to see Joe, it’s so good to see one of my patients back on his feet and to be able to talk to him and see him in a much better condition than the last time I saw him.” 

Julie added: “It’s been great to see Joe. As a call operator, we don’t often get to hear about what happens with patients once we put the phone down. To hear all about how his colleagues helped him at such a crucial time and Joe’s recovery it makes me remember why I do the job I do.”

Joe said: “They all worked together to save my life, it’s because of them that I’ve been able to carry on with my life and be there for my wife and kids. As well as being able to thank my colleagues, I’m glad I’ve been able to meet the paramedic and call handler today to have the opportunity to thank them.”

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Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

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