Cumbrian woman brought back to life after heart scare

A woman whose heart stopped beating for fifteen minutes has paid tribute to the medics who saved her life and praised the cutting edge piece of equipment which played a key role.

Rowena O’Connell was brought back to life in her living room, having collapsed while redecorating with her husband on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon last autumn.

Now recovering at her home at Great Asby, near Appleby in Cumbria, Mrs O’Connell said she was indebted to the work of the Great North Air Ambulance Service, the charity which flew to her aid and brought the ground-breaking AutoPulse® machine along to the scene.

The AutoPulse®, manufactured by ZOLL Medical Corporation, is a battery powered non-invasive cardiac support pump device which delivers consistent, high quality mechanical chest compressions. It is on trial with GNAAS, whose medics fitted it to Mrs O’Connell’s chest shortly before her heart beat returned. The incident happened in October last year.

Describing her memories of the incident, Mrs O’Connell said: “The wallpaper had been up for years and years and my husband was just starting to take it off. It was going everywhere and I was scrabbling around tidying it up. That’s all I can remember.”

As she slipped into unconsciousness, her husband Ian, a local mechanic, began his frantic efforts to resuscitate her, while her 18-year-old son Kieran called for an ambulance.

The Great North Air Ambulance Service sent its Pride of Cumbria aircraft from Langwathby, near Penrith, carrying a doctor and paramedic. They were joined at the scene by road paramedics and Dr Theo Weston, who also works for GNAAS but who was at the time fulfilling his role as a BASICS rapid response doctor.

It is not the first time that Mrs O’Connell has had heart problems. She has already had two heart valve replacements and was due a check up just three days after her collapse.

GNAAS paramedic Andy Dalton, who flies on the Pride of Cumbria, said that the type of valve fitted in Mrs O’Connell’s heart usually made a regular noise, but when she collapsed on the day, the noise stopped altogether, alerting her husband to the perilous state she was in.

The Pride of Cumbria was on scene about 15 minutes after Mrs O’Connell had collapsed. Mr Dalton said that through continued CPR, drugs and the fitting of the AutoPulse, the team was able to restore her pulse and she was carried on a stretcher over the garden wall to the aircraft in an adjacent field.

He added: “The helicopter is fitted with equipment that allowed us to take over her breathing on the way to James Cook hospital in Middlesbrough. She started to move as well which was a great sign, but she was still critically unwell.

“I’m just glad we could get there and bring all this equipment and expertise to the scene. It sounds bad but Mrs O’Connell wouldn’t have made it without the intervention, it’s as simple as that.”

Mrs O’Connell was already a supporter of the Great North Air Ambulance Service, having signed up to the charity’s weekly lottery earlier in the year.

She said: “I had heard a lot about the good work they do in the area but you really don’t realise how important it is until you have to call upon it.

“I’m so very grateful. Something like this makes you realise how precious life is and how you have to make the very most of it.”

Mrs O’Connell has returned to a part-time job at the local primary school and said feels better now than for some time. “I’m getting better all the time,” she added.

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