The lives of three people who suffered cardiac arrests within the space of five days across the Highlands and Islands, earlier this year were saved thanks in part to public access defibrillators provided by a Skye-based charity.
Lisa MacInnes, director of the national organisation Save a Life Scotland has described the survival of Cherill Parry (66) from Gairloch, Ian MacLeod (52) from Inverness, and 75-year-old John Burgis from Port of Ness in Lewis — each of whom was treated with a Lucky2Bhere automatic external defibrillator — as “exceptional” and said that the work of the charity should “inspire other communities throughout Scotland”.
On Saturday 9th June, Cherill Parry was walking her dog in Gairloch when she started to feel unwell. “I had been walking the dog and was feeling rough, so I went to the doctor. Afterward, I travelled back home and got out the car and I don’t remember anything about the three weeks after that – but apparently I ‘died’ a couple of times, according to reports!
“I was told that I dropped like a stone on the pavement outside my house, and my neighbour ran across to the community centre to get the defibrillator and used it on me. After that, the doctor and the air ambulance arrived.”
Cherill spent three weeks in Raigmore Hospital in Inverness but was then admitted to hospital in Edinburgh where she went through open heart surgery and was fitted with a pacemaker. After three weeks out of the hospital, she was readmitted to Raigmore for a further two weeks but is now back home recovering.
Having battled her way back from the brink, Cherill was informed that her husband Russell had died at home in Gairloch two weeks to the day of her suffering cardiac arrest. “It’s heart-breaking,” she said. “I think what happened to me must have been terrifying for poor Russell.”
Despite enduring such serious illness and personal tragedy, Cherill remains positive about the future and was quick to pay tribute to the role of Lucky2Bhere. She said: “I am so pleased to see a small organisation like Lucky2Bhere is doing so well. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the defibrillator at the community centre and someone being able to use it on me.”
Every year around 3,500 Scottish people of all ages and backgrounds have resuscitation attempted after their heart stops suddenly and unexpectedly – they suffer a cardiac arrest. Currently, only one in 12 survive – Save a Life Scotland.
Three days after Cherill’s collapse, on Tuesday 12th June, 52-year-old father-of-three Ian MacLeod was out at Dores beach when he too suffered a cardiac arrest.“I’m a cub scout leader and was doing the register with another leader when I hit the dirt,” he said.
“A couple of Spanish tourists who were on the beach at the time performed CPR on me and got the defib from the Dores Inn and kept on going until the ambulance arrived. It took 40 to 50 minutes to get me to Raigmore Hospital.”
After being admitted on Tuesday evening, Ian was fitted with a ‘stent’the next day and was out of the hospital on Thursday to pick his children up from school.
Having served in the forces and kept himself in good psychical the condition, Ian believed there was no rhyme nor reason for his illness: “I have never been overweight and I’m in decent shape, so it just shows you it could happen to anyone.”
During his 13 years as a security guard in the Eastgate Shopping Centre in Inverness, Ian was on the other end of a defibrillator — having used one at work — and was keen to stress that when it comes to using the device there shouldn’t be anything to fear. “You can’t do any more harm to a person by using a defib, as they are in effect already dead. “I am forever grateful. All things considered, I could have died and there would be three kids left without a dad.”
“Two of the most important factors influencing survival rates are the early use of CPR and early use of an Automatic External Defibrillator – defibrillation within three to five minutes can produce survival rates as high as 50 per cent to 70 per cent.”
Sue Hampshire, acting chief executive officer of the Resuscitation Council UK.
On Wednesday 13th June, in Port of Ness in Lewis, 76-year-old John Burgis wasn’t feeling his usual self and his wife Carol soon became concerned about his wellbeing.
“John hadn’t been 100 per cent the day before, which rang alarm bells for me,” she said. “He had been a bit breathless, and we went to the surgery. They took his blood pressure and said he was fine but — given he was 75 — to take it easy, so we came home… We went to bed about 11 o’clock.”
“I don’t remember anything apart from waking up in the hospital,” said John. “Carol apparently found me making funny noises at about one o’clock in the morning and then realised I was unconscious.”
Carol quickly called for an ambulance: “I dialled 999 and when I was on the phone he stopped breathing. Then I did what I was told to do – I got him off the bed and on to the floor and did CPR until the responder arrived.
“Fiona, the responder alongside whom I had trained about 10 years earlier came from Cross with the defibrillator – it was lucky she was the one on call and didn’t live far away. She got the kit out straight away. I put the stickers on his chest, she shocked him, and he started breathing again.”
John was admitted to hospital in Stornoway before being transferred by helicopter to Queen Elizabeth ICU in Glasgow. He was then admitted to the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank where he was fitted with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). He was back home just over a week later.
“One reason for my quick recovery was that I actually went into hospital quite fit,” said John. “Even though I was unconscious, my body itself was in a fit state. We had regularly been going to the gym near our house here which has a scheme free for pensioners that is great – it encourages some of the old folk to go. We regularly go out on our bikes or walk up to the Butt of Lewis, so we do lead quite active lifestyles.”
Carol added: “It was our wedding anniversary recently which was very poignant as I could have been sitting here by myself – I wasn’t, and it’s all good.
“We have a very strong faith and that has helped us accept what has happened and be extremely grateful that John is still here.”
Dr. Steve Leslie, consultant cardiologist and clinical lead for heart failure at Raigmore Hospital, believes the work undertaken by Lucky2Bhere is “truly life-saving”.
“Without defibrillation, a cardiac arrest is almost always fatal,” Dr. Leslie said. “For every 90 seconds in which defibrillation is delayed the chance of success is reduced by 10 per cent. This means that for defibrillation to be successful it needs to be delivered as soon as possible. CPR prior to defibrillation can buy time.
“The approach taken by Lucky2Bhere to encourage communities not only to provide community-based defibrillators but also to engage with training is lifesaving.”
Established in 2007, Lucky2Bhere was set-up by Skye resident Ross Cowie who suffered a cardiac arrest in 2006 but was saved due to the presence nearby of an ambulance which had lifesaving equipment.
In view of his own experience, Ross decided to raise funds to purchase a defibrillator for the Skye Camanachd shinty clubhouse in Portree which was where he fell ill. What began as a small local gesture has since blossomed into a national charity – Lucky2Bhere and its team of volunteers have provided training to thousands of people in communities across the length and breadth of Scotland, from Cullivoe Hall in Shetland to Burrowhead Holiday Village near the Mull of Galloway.
Last year the charity linked up with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to provide ELS training — including how to operate a defibrillator — as part of the curriculum in all 24 primary and secondary schools across the Western Isles. In total, there are currently 115 public access defibrillators in the Western Isles from the Butt of Lewis to Barra, and more than 50 across Skye.
Ross Cowie said: “We always said at Lucky2Bhere that if we could help to save one life that would make all efforts worthwhile. Several people have survived but, for three to be saved in five days, is extraordinary.
“Much of this success is due to the trainers who give their time freely to train thousands of people across Scotland in lifesaving skills. Training takes only two hours and what better skill could be learned than the ability potentially to save someone’s life.”
For more information on the work done by Lucky2Bhere, visit www.lucky2bhere.org.
Article by Adam Gordon
Images courtesy of Cherill Parry, Ian MacLeod, John Burgis, and Lucky2Bhere.