Cardiac arrest survivor thanks life-savers

A civil servant who suffered a cardiac arrest at his work gym has reunited with his colleagues and North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) staff to say thank you for saving his life.

Joe McIlwraith’s day began as normal on 18 July last year with a workout at the employee gym at HMP Durham when he collapsed suddenly.

Joe’s colleagues, Tracy Walker, Chris Carson and Colin Brown rushed to his side and rang 999. With support from NEAS call operator, Julie Hetherington, Colin and Chris started CPR on Joe and shocked him with the on-site defibrillator.

On arrival, emergency care assistant Denis Canavan and advanced technician Ian Daley took over CPR from Joe’s colleagues and shocked him with a defibrillator, gaining a return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) before rapid response paramedic Lauren Wilding arrived to stabilise him.  

Once Joe was stabilised, the Great North Air Ambulance Service was called to assist the crews and the on board doctor placed Joe into an induced coma before Denis and Ian transported him by road ambulance to University Hospital of North Durham.  Joe was later transferred to the Freeman Hospital where he had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which can also act as a pacemaker, fitted.

Joe is on a long road to recovery but has been determined to return to work so he could personally thank all those involved in saving his life.

He said: “All I remember was being on the rowing machine and I didn’t feel any sudden pains before I collapsed. 

“I woke up in hospital days later. It's all a bit blurry but I know that a lot of people helped me and I was told they worked on me for a couple of hours at the scene.

“They all worked together to save my life, it’s because of them that I’ve been able to carry on with my life and be there for my wife and kids.”

Lauren said: “It was really important that Joe’s colleagues were able to start CPR and use the defibrillator on him before we arrived as without their help, the outcome may have been very different.

“It’s so good to see one of my patients back on his feet and to be able to talk to him and see him in a much better condition than the last time I saw him.” 

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