Amy Donalson and Lee Stephenson at their home in Gosforth

Cardiac arrest survivor’s fiancé takes on mammoth March challenge to raise money for life-saving defibrillators

Amy Donalson will walk, run and cycle 34km a day to raise money for North East Ambulance Service's charitable fund

Most people remember Friday, 20 March, as the day Boris shut the pubs. But Amy Donalson will always remember it as the night she found herself in the position no-one wants to find themselves in – doing CPR on her fiancé Lee.

Now, the 28-year-old has set herself the challenge of running, walking and cycling 1,079km throughout March – a kilometre for every CPR call received by North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) in 2020.

Amy’s fiancé, Lee Stephenson, suffered a cardiac arrest at their home in Gosforth on 20 March 2020, after believing the chest pains he had been experiencing all day couldn’t possibly be a heart attack due to him being just 31-years-old.

That night, Amy found herself calling 999 and putting the first aid skills she had learned at work into practice, desperately trying to save Lee’s life with the help of 999 health advisor Bradley Sanderson, whilst two ambulance crews were en-route.

Thankfully Lee is now making a steady recovery and will be supporting Amy on her mammoth challenge as much as his doctors will allow.

The pair are hoping to help North East Ambulance Service’s Charitable Fund to install a defibrillator in Grangetown, Sunderland, where Lee grew up, in the hope of helping save someone else’s life.

And they are calling on members of the public will also join in the challenge along the way by pledging to run, walk or cycle 1km themselves.

“That night was the worst of my life,” said Amy. “I thought I had lost him.

“He snores anyway but he started making this horrible noise so I turned the light on and I could see straight away that it was serious. His back was soaking, his hands were freezing, and he was going a bit blue.

“Without the amazing help of that call operator talking me through CPR and the fast response of the paramedic team, I have no doubt that Lee wouldn’t be with me today.

“I was able to thank the intensive care nurses, the cardiologists and doctors at the Freeman, however due to the lockdown, we’ve only been able to thank one of the ambulance staff so far, so when we noticed a post on the NEAS Facebook account which showed call handlers had helped 1,079 999 callers to do life-saving CPR in 2020, one of which was mine, I thought this would be a nice way to say thank you.

“Originally, I was going to try and do it in 20 days, finishing on the anniversary of the cardiac arrest, but Lee thought that might be a bit too much so I’ve extended it to the whole of March.

“It works out about 34km a day so it’s certainly going to be a challenge, especially since I haven’t been on a bike in years! I’ve borrowed my aunty’s bike and think I’m going to try and do a 10-mile cycle every morning and then a walk or a run in the afternoon. Obviously I can only exercise locally at the moment but luckily Exhibition Park is on my doorstep, which should make it a bit easier!

“We’re finally getting married in May after having to postpone the wedding last year so I’m hoping this will also help me lose some of the pounds I’ve put on during lockdown!”

Over the last year, Lee, now aged 32, has become passionate about raising awareness of cardiac arrests, and the importance of not ignoring symptoms.

He said: “Out of hospital cardiac arrests have just a one in 10 survival rate. When you look at it like that, I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been.

“I had been getting shooting pains in my arm, but I had just started going to the gym so was thinking maybe I had a trapped nerve or pulled muscle. Amy was really worried and wanted me to call 999, but at the time it was all over the news about not burdening the NHS and I had just started going to the thought that because of my age, there was no way it could be anything serious so I took myself to bed thinking a good night’s sleep would make it better. I don’t remember anything else after that other than what Amy has told me.

“Since then, I’ve had three stents fitted. I’m still not back up to full fitness but I’ve just been taking it one day at a time and everyone has been amazed by how far I’ve come.

“It’s really important for me now to raise awareness, especially amongst young people. I’m young and was relatively fit – I’m proof that this can happen to anyone.

“I’d like to encourage people to join in by doing at least 1km, share the link, donate and tag a friend to challenge too, much like the ‘run five donate five’ challenge which was going around on social media last year.

 “Any money we’re able to raise will help install more life-saving defibrillators in our local communities and help save more lives. What more reason could you need?”

Alex Mason, community resuscitation officer at NEAS, said: “As both Lee and Amy have said, they were lucky.  Amy realised that something was wrong, called 999 and, with assistance over the phone from our health adviser, started the CPR that Lee needed to buy him time until the ambulance crew arrived with their defibrillator to restart his heart.  

“We need to increase awareness of cardiac arrest, the number of people who start CPR as well as the number of public access defibrillators in our region, and their brilliant challenge to raise funds for our charity will help us do this.

“I cannot thank them enough for sharing their story and commitment to fundraising for something so important. I am looking forward to working with them both to identify places that would benefit from a public access defibrillator thanks to their generosity.”

Join in the challenge at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/1079kmfor1079calls

Find out more about the NEAS Charitable Fund at www.neas.nhs.uk/get-involved/making-a-donation and find out more about community defibrillators at www.neas.nhs.uk/our-services/community-defibrillators

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Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

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