North Wales family thank call handler and medics after dad suffered cardiac arrest
A North Wales family who nearly lost their father and husband to a cardiac arrest have reached-out to thank the Welsh Ambulance Service crew and highlight the work of the often unseen heroes in emergency medical care – the 999 call handlers.
The Gilbert family of Flint, were calmly guided through the process of Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) by Welsh Ambulance Service call handler Abbie Williams, in what were extremely distressing circumstances.
The Gilberts were recently reunited with Abbie and Urgent Care Assistant Vince Clayton and paramedic Neil Stanley at Dobshill Area Ambulance Centre – patient, father and husband Stephen Gilbert recalls what happened when he fell ill.
The 52-year-old furniture upholsterer said: “We were at home after work one evening as usual, and around 8.30pm and I wasn’t feeling too well to so I went upstairs for a lie down.
“That’s honestly the last thing I remember really, apart from waking up in hospital some days later.
“I had suffered a cardiac arrest and had fallen from the bed on to the floor between the bed and the wall.”
Stephen’s wife, Suzanne, 52, who works for a national catering company, made the emergency call after being alerted by their son Jamie who was in his bedroom and heard a thud around 9.30pm and went to investigate.
Suzanne said: “Jamie shouted down stairs to me to ring an ambulance immediately, so I got up the stairs with the phone in my hand as quick as I could and called 999.
“I didn’t know it at the time but Stephen had had a cardiac arrest.
“I was connected straight away to a call handler who began to help us and got the ambulance on its way.”
From her assessment, Abbie knew that Stephen needed urgent help with his breathing if he was to survive, and whilst Jamie ran to fetch a defibrillator, Suzanne was tasked with performing life-saving CPR on her husband.
Suzanne continued: “It was very cramped where Stephen had fallen and he’s quite a big lad for me.
“Stephen had fallen on his front and Abbie gave me instructions on how to roll him over on to his back so I could begin chest compressions.
“She kept me as calm as possible and got me going with my hands in the right place and a steady count of 1,2,3,4 for the CPR.
“My daughter Zoe, who is a District Nurse, had been alerted by Jamie and ran into the house to take over the CPR.
“It was so scary and I didn’t think I was going to see Stephen again.”
Daughter Zoe continued the CPR for several more vital minutes and kept his heart going whilst the ambulance headed to the scene on blue lights.
Suzanne continued: “The paramedics were here very quickly and spent about an hour working on him before coming down and telling us they had got a pulse back.
“I think it was another hour before they left in the ambulance and he was taken to Glan Clwyd Hospital. If they weren’t here so fast I don’t think he’d have made it.”
Stephen was fitted with two stents in his heart and spent 11 days in an induced coma in hospital before being woken up and eventually allowed home a week later.
Emergency call handler Abbie Williams, 26, from Cardiff, was on duty at the Trust’s Clinical Contact Centr in Cwmbran when the call came in from Suzanne.
Abbie said: “I could hear the caller was very distressed and struggling with her own breathing.
“It was one of those calls where I felt if I could do it for her I 100% would. It was so emotional – it was a call that stuck out and really, got to me.
“Suzanne did incredibly well and her daughter did a tidy job also. I could hear her screaming at her dad to stay alive as I read out the instructions.
“She had every right to do so as she was working on her own dad which is clearly a very stressful situation.
“It was a call where we did amazing as a team, all of us, and without the family being so brilliant it could have been a very different story.”
Abbie has over two years’ experience of emergency call handling but said of this particular call: “As call handlers, we’re used to it and I usually stay on to find out the outcome but this time I had to step away for some air.
“I was so thrilled when I got the email to say that Stephen had made it. I’d like to tell the family how amazingly well they did, they were so good.
“It’s really nice to be thanked for my role as sometimes I feel people forget we are the first point of contact in a medical emergency.
“It’s this that keeps us coming back.”
Vince Clayton and Neil Stanley were at nearby Dobshill station on their rest break when the top priority ‘Red’ call came over the radio, and without hesitation got straight back on the road.
By chance, the two were not down to work together that day, but a last minute change of shifts saw the skilled duo paired up.
Vince said: “We were sent to reports of a male nearby, not conscious and not breathing.
“When we arrived at the property, we were told to go upstairs to the bedroom where we saw a young lady performing CPR on the patient.
“Neil and I checked the patient and found he was in cardiac arrest.
“We attached the pads of our defibrillator to his chest and I continued CPR whilst Neil attempted cannulation so we could administer the correct drugs and fluids.”
Arriving next to support the crew in one of the Trust’s rapid response vehicles was paramedic Hayley Lovell, herself of Flint.
Hayley said: “I arrived at the house and found Vince and Neil performing CPR on the patient in the bedroom.
“I got straight on to airway management to assist them and we had to shock him once with a defibrillator to get him back.
“Once he had taken over his own breathing, it was a case of move and load as quick as we could to get him into hospital.
“Vince and Neil got him safely down the stairs and into the ambulance where we took him on blue lights to the cardiac lab at Glan Clwyd.
“It’s great news to hear he has made a good recovery from his ordeal.”
Vince continued: “Neil had contacted the hospital and pre-alerted them with a copy of the patient’s observations.
“When we arrived at the hospital it was found by staff there that he had two blockages in his heart.”
Stephen is back at home in Flint and despite some memory loss is making a good recovery from his ordeal.
He has even adopted some new healthy lifestyle habits and lost three stone in weight.
Upon being reunited with the family, Vince said: “It was a really good day meeting the Gilbert family again and very emotional too.
“It was great to see Stephen again looking fit and well now.”
Abbie said: “It was such an amazing feeling meeting the family in person and putting faces to the voices.
“Seeing them all together and seeing how grateful they are that Stephen is still with them definitely makes the job more meaningful.”
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