Lee and Amy with (l-r) Bradley, Claire, Richard, Andrew, Katie and Denise

CPR saved me and it could save others too

Appeal from cardiac arrest survivor after meeting the ambulance crews who helped save his life

A cardiac arrest survivor is raising awareness of CPR after reuniting with the ambulance crews who helped save his life.

Lee Stephenson suffered a cardiac arrest at his home in South Gosforth on March 20 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.

His quick-thinking fiancée, Amy Donalson, quickly dialled 999 and put 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 the ambulance crews were en-route.

Lee is now recovering well, and the pair are now preparing for their wedding on 12 June. They have now been able to thank the people who helped to make sure their wedding was possible.

The reunion also gave the staff the opportunity to thank Amy and Lee for raising over £2,000 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.

“That night was the worst of my life,” said Amy, aged 28. “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 Bradley’s amazing help talking me through CPR and the fast response of the paramedic team, I have no doubt that Lee wouldn’t be with me today.”

Speaking after the reunion, Bradley said: “Taking a CPR call is one of the calls no one likes to receive, as at that moment in time the other person on the phone is going through the worst moment of their life.

“Amy did extremely well under the circumstances she found herself in, and was quick to recognise that Lee wasn’t breathing and although Amy was understandably panicking, she was able to listen to the advice I was giving her of getting Lee on a flat hard surface, and how to give CPR, which is important to start as soon as possible to enable the patient to have the best chance of surviving.

“It was a great experience getting to meet both Lee and Amy; as a health advisor we don’t usually get to meet the patient or find out the outcome in most cases, however in this case, it was great to see Lee doing so well in which Amy should be pleased with how well she managed that night due to her early recognition and effective CPR.” 

Clinical care manager Richard Ilderton was first to arrive, alongside Blucher ambulance crew paramedic Denise Bridge and clinical care assistant Andrew Wood and closely followed by specialist paramedic Claire Gilroy and Sandyford ambulance crew paramedic Katie Sharp and clinical care assistant Neil Jones.

“I just remember pulling up and hearing Amy screaming,” said Denise. “I just thought we need to get in there to help.

“Amy was doing really good CPR so I asked her to continue whilst we got all our equipment ready, then Andrew took over doing CPR and Katie managed his airway whilst Richard handled the drugs, all overseen by Claire. I then followed Amy outside to understand what had led up to the arrest and to keep her informed of what was happening; I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone and we were doing the best we could.”

Claire added: “Lee had had a heart attack; his coronary artery was blocked, and he needed a stent to open it up. Eventually, his heart stopped beating and he stopped breathing.

“CPR is a manual way of compressing the heart, pumping blood around the body to the brain and other vital organs to keep the person alive. The fact that Amy started CPR the minute he went into cardiac arrest made all the difference and the quality of the chest compressions were so good that Lee had what’s called a CPR induced consciousness, which means he regained consciousness even though his heart still wasn’t beating for itself. It doesn’t happen very often at all, usually even if they start to breathe for themselves or you get a regular rhythm, the patient is still unconscious. And it’s all because Amy did such good CPR.”

Denise continued: “Amy came in the ambulance with us and by the time we got him to hospital, he was talking to us and I remember telling him ‘she’s a keeper, she just saved your life'.

“It was so lovely to be able to see them both again; you really are attached to that situation and you want to know the outcome, but we don’t always get to find out. It’s great to see Lee looking so well.”

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

Nationally, only around 1 in 10 people who have a sudden cardiac arrest in the UK survive to hospital discharge, and in the North East this figure is even lower, with the survival rate being just 8%. Their survival depends on people around them taking prompt action to try to save their life.

With people now getting into closer proximity to family, friends, colleagues, and strangers due to the easing of lockdown restrictions, it is increasingly important everyone has the skills to save a life.

The importance of community and school-based training and the need for everybody to learn the basic skills to save a life are emphasised in the latest Resuscitation Council UK (RCUK) Guidelines. Published last week, the RCUK 2021 Guidelines state that “every person should learn to provide the basic skills to save a life.”

However, a UK-wide survey carried out on behalf of Resuscitation Council UK in September 2020 revealed that over a third of people have not received any type of training on how to help someone experiencing a cardiac arrest.

As face-to-face training is still returning to normal, the ambulance services and Resuscitation Council UK want people to make use now of the many digital teaching resources available, such as RCUK’s animation and their Lifesaver game to learn how to do CPR. 

“When you look at the survival rate, I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been,” said Lee.

“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.”

Richard added: “We always hope when we go to these types of calls that someone will be doing CPR. We respond to these calls as quickly as we can but it’s going to take us a few minutes to get there and when someone is in cardiac arrest, every second counts – the longer they go without chest compressions, the less likely they are to survive. If someone is doing chest compressions, that means we have a fighting chance of getting the patient back.”

Andrew added: “If more people felt confident and comfortable doing CPR, the survival rates would improve massively.

“The fact that these guys have raised funds for defibrillators is also fantastic – the more defibrillators we have in the community, the better chance people have of surviving and will help us have more outcomes like Lee because that’s why we’re in this job at the end of the day.”

RCUK Guidelines 2021 highlight that:

  • Recognising a cardiac arrest remains a key priority as it is the first step in triggering the emergency response to cardiac arrest. 
  • Witnesses need to recognise a cardiac arrest has occurred in any unresponsive person with absent or abnormal breathing. 
  • Call 999. The ambulance call handler will assist you with instructions for confirming cardiac arrest, starting compression-only CPR, and locating, retrieving, and using an Automated External Defibrillator. 
  • Start chest compressions as soon as possible and continue without stopping or leaving the person.
  • Send someone to fetch an Automated External Defibrillator and bring it to the scene of the cardiac arrest.

To learn CPR today, visit: www.resus.org.uk/watch 

Find out more about community defibrillators at www.neas.nhs.uk/our-services/community-defibrillators

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