Health

PROFESSOR ROB GALLOWAY: We can save lives thanks to the speedy use of simple skills

As he left home to embark on the long journey to watch his beloved team Nottingham Forest play in Brighton, Bob Whetton heard Elaine, his wife of 42 years, shout: ‘It will be death if you go to all these football games in the south goes. ‘

In fact, it saved his life.

After a long career in the public sector, including 16 years as Finance Director of Lincolnshire Council, 73-year-old Bob enjoyed a retirement of sorts based on his love of football.

In his youth he played for a Sunday morning team. He then became manager of an amateur club and has been a season ticket holder for Nottingham Forest for 32 years.

After a long career in the public sector, including 16 years as Finance Director of Lincolnshire Council, 73-year-old Bob enjoyed a retirement of sorts based on his love of football. He is pictured on the right with Professor Rob Galloway (left)

On his way to the Amex Stadium, home of Brighton, that cold Tuesday a few weeks ago, he had gone through Wembley to meet with the Women’s FA to discuss how to improve women’s participation in football.

The meeting at Wembley was the reason why he was a little late for kick-off at 7.30pm. He rushed to the stadium and experienced chest pain for a few seconds. Then his next memory, lying on the tarmac outside the stadium, was a team of medics yelling instructions to check his blood pressure and how conscious he was.

The searing pain in his ribs made him think he had been assaulted – in fact, it was from bruising caused by the chest compressions administered by members of the St. John Ambulance who had literally just rescued him.

He had gone into cardiac arrest and was basically dead until simple first aid skills – and an automatic defibrillator stored in a public area at the stadium – brought him back to life.

Bob’s thoughts soon turned to the two loves of his life. “Are we losing yet?” he asked, followed by, “Did you tell my wife; is she okay?’

I know this because I was the doctor on call that night, as part of the Amex Stadium medical team, arriving just after Bob was “shocked” brought back to life. I was so proud that our team saved his life together.

As an A&E consultant, I also know that Bob was one of the lucky ones – lucky to have his cardiac arrest at this location. Around 30,000 people in the UK suffer cardiac arrest each year, but only one in 20, or five per cent, survive.

On His Way To The Amex Stadium, Home Of Brighton, He Had Passed Through Wembley That Cold Tuesday A Few Weeks Ago To Meet With The Women'S Fa To Discuss How To Improve Women'S Participation In Football

On his way to the Amex Stadium, home of Brighton, he had passed through Wembley that cold Tuesday a few weeks ago to meet with the Women’s FA to discuss how to improve women’s participation in football

In cardiac arrest, the heart suddenly stops working and can no longer pump blood. It is often confused with a heart attack (which is caused by a lack of blood, due to a clot in the blood vessels that supply the heart).

About 15 percent of heart attacks lead to cardiac arrest, either from direct damage to the heart or because the part of the heart that is damaged is the electrical circuit, which then malfunctions; essentially the heart ‘vibrates’ – known medically as ventricular fibrillation.

Another cause of cardiac arrest can be a large clot in the lung.

But a large number of cardiac arrests are caused directly by electrical problems in the heart. Manchester United midfielder Christian Eriksen was the most famous example of this: he suffered a cardiac arrest in June 2021 while playing for Denmark at the European Championship and came back to life with a shock.

Bob was lucky for three reasons. He collapsed near people who knew how to do CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) and had the type of cardiac arrest that affects the heart’s electricity, so responds to a shock from a defibrillator. But, crucially, he crashed near such a device.

He was the seventh person to suffer cardiac arrest at the Amex since it opened in 2011. All seven not only survived but, like Bob, enjoyed a high quality of life afterwards.

Bob was then taken to the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton where a blocked heart artery was opened and he was fitted with an internal defibrillator to prevent future cardiac arrest. Within a few days he had returned home and is now healthy and back to his old self.

“I am so thankful for the intervention of Brighton and everyone who helped, from the club stewards, St John Ambulance, the paramedics, the mass doctor, the Royal Sussex County Hospital NHS A&E and cardiology teams. If I hadn’t had that support, I wouldn’t be here,” he says.

So why can a football stadium have a 100 percent survival rate when the usual rate is only five percent?

First, Bob was resuscitated as soon as he went into cardiac arrest (which you can see happening live with Bob. View the CCTV footage – provided with his permission – by scanning the QR code at the bottom right).

In Bob’s case it was carried out by St John Ambulance members; however, anyone can do it and it’s easy to learn. If you see that someone has collapsed, the first thing to do is to look for signs of life. If not, call 999 and begin CPR.

Some people are hesitant to try because of the “kiss of life” idea. The name – cardiopulmonary resuscitation – is also a problem, because people think that you also need to resuscitate the lungs.

But that’s just not the case. The latest evidence shows that it is only the chest compressions that members of the public should do. Press down hard and fast (at about the pace of the Bee Gees song Stayin’ Alive) and to a depth of one-third of the chest. (People also worry about cracking ribs – don’t be. I’d rather live with a few healing broken ribs than die with a perfect chest.) The sooner CPR starts, the higher the survival rate – after five minutes without CPR, the heart stops beating. fibrillation, making successful resuscitation much less likely.

By performing compressions, you take over the heart’s role in pumping blood throughout the body, keeping the brain alive. For every minute of delay in starting CPR, survival drops by eight percent.

Patients with all types of cardiac arrest benefit from CPR. While you do this, the heart stays alive, in those types of cardiac arrest where the electricity is malfunctioning and the heart fibrillates, the main treatment is to shock the heart, bringing it back into a normal rhythm.

And you want to use a defib as soon as possible – if CPR is started immediately and a defibrillator is used immediately, the chances of survival after cardiac arrest due to an electrical fault can be as high as 50 to 75 percent. Again, you don’t need training – automatic defibrillators have a “voice” that tells you what to do. You just need access to one of these life-saving devices.

Unfortunately, in the UK only three per cent of cardiac arrests are treated with a public defibrillator because it is not as widely available as it should be.

If you don’t know where your nearest defibrillator is, the 999 operators will tell you.

At Amex Stadium, we have 11 defibrillators – one can be used on a patient within two to three minutes of a collapse anywhere in the stadium.

As St. John Ambulance general manager and volunteer first responder, Martin Houghton-Brown, told me, “It’s incredible to think that those volunteers, all of whom have day jobs, can give chest compressions so quickly and the defibrillator shocks the Bob can give. Thanks to our wonderful volunteers, Bob gets to watch a football game again.’

If a football stadium can improve survival, can’t we do it elsewhere? Dr. Salwa Malik, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, says: ‘Learning CPR and public access to defibrillators are the two most important things we can do after cardiac arrest.’

We need first aid taught to everyone – children and adults. A good way to do it for adults would be to introduce it into the driver’s license exam, as they do in many European countries.

More automatic defibrillators are also needed – as fire extinguishers already are, this should become part of regulations for public buildings, for example.

And you can play a part too: learn CPR, take a first aid course, or raise money for a defibrillator for your local park/school.

But most of all, remember that starting CPR and applying an automatic defibrillator to someone with no signs of life won’t hurt — and could help more people like Bob live.

As Bob told me, “I’m only alive because I happened to have a cardiac arrest where life savers were present and defibs were available. I can’t put into words how happy and grateful I am.’

For more information about CPR, go to resus.org.uk/cpr

For information about St John Ambulance, courses and volunteering: sha.org.uk

Professor Rob Galloway works for University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust and is the crowd doctor at Amex Stadium, home of Brighton and Hove Albion FC.

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Merry

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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