Doctor told 75-year-old ‘keeping fit’ saved his life following cardiac arrest on football pitch

“I’ve always taken life as it comes but I guess this has woken me up to how easy it can be taken away.”

A 75-year-old man from Spennymoor has been told that ‘keeping fit’ saved his life following a cardiac arrest during a football match.

Bill Cunningham was in goal during a friendly match last month at Spennymoor Leisure Centre when he began to feel unwell.

Bill said: “The lads always get together twice a week, and we play football at the leisure centre – it’s just a bit of fun. That morning, I got there and when it was my turn to go in goal, I started to feel poorly.

“I can’t really describe how I felt but it was just a bit squeamy so I walked over to the seats by the pitch to sit down and that’s the last thing I remember.

“I’ve since been told that I was having a cardiac arrest.”

Staff from the leisure centre began to perform CPR on Mr Cunningham within one minute and came out with a defibrillator.

Bill’s wife, Ruth, recalls getting a call from the leisure centre as she was getting ready in preparation to go for lunch with Mr Cunningham and their neighbours once he had finished football.

Ruth said: “I was in the house just drying my hair and listening to the radio when the call came through. When they said he had had an accident I thought they meant maybe a broken ankle.

“When they said a cardiac arrest, I thought, how? He was fine this morning.”

The Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) was tasked to the scene of the accident and performed life-saving interventions on the retired police officer.

When Ruth arrived at the leisure centre, she recalls it being like a scene from casualty with the helicopter and two ambulances as well as staff from the leisure centre all surrounding her husband.

The 74-year-old said: “The GNAAS team were so lovely. They asked if I would like to fly with Bill but my friend Marion who was with me said she would drive me to the hospital. I knew Bill was in good hands.”

Bill was flown to James Cook University Hospital’s coronary care department where he received five stents on the four side of his heart.

Bill said: “GNAAS is such a valuable service and without them, the outcome may have been very different.

“I’ve always taken life as it comes but I guess this has woken me up to how easy it can be taken away. Next year, Ruth and I are going to do all the things we’ve said we were going to do.”

He added: “The consultant said to me that being so physically fit at my age saved my life and has encouraged me to go back to playing football within a few weeks.”

Cllr James Rowlandson, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for resources, investment and assets, which includes leisure centres said: “We are delighted Mr Cunningham is recovering well thanks to the fantastic efforts of GNAAS and the quick first aid response from our leisure centre staff.  Our staff are well trained, we are very proud of their efforts and glad that it was a positive outcome for Mr Cunningham.”

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