Mum of four saved by St John Ambulance volunteer after suffering cardiac arrest

Carmen Green has been reunited with the man who stepped in to help when she suffered a cardiac arrest

St John Ambulance volunteer with Carmen Green

Carmen, 42, suffered a cardiac arrest on her way to work and would have died if it hadn’t been for the actions of a complete stranger who stepped in and helped save her life.

Even though she was normally a fit and active mum of four, Carmen, from Milton Keynes, had been feeling unwell in the weeks leading up to the day when her heart suddenly stopped beating.

'I’d climbed the three Welsh peaks in May, but since then we’d had some family bereavement and initially I thought that my extreme tiredness was down to the stress and grief. What I didn’t know was that I actually had a benign tumour on my parathyroid which was causing hypocalcaemia – where the body draws too much calcium from your bones into the blood.'

Carmen’s husband Andrew, 38, was driving her to work when she told him she was feeling unwell and collapsed sideways on to him.

Andrew noticed her lips turning blue so he quickly pulled the car over to the side of the road.

'He managed to get me out and phoned the emergency services.'

First aid when it really counts

While waiting for the ambulance Andrew, who had learned cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) at school during rugby coaching sessions, started chest compressions.

Fortunately, St John Ambulance volunteer Justin Crook stopped his car and offered to help.

'As I drove past I looked back and I could see a woman lying on the ground. It didn’t look right so I parked my car in the next road and ran back to them,' says Justin, 37, a St John Ambulance first aider.

'I asked the normal questions such as history of heart attack and whether she was taking any medication. Then I started CPR.'

If someone has stopped breathing and is unconscious, CPR – which involves mouth-to-mouth breaths and chest compressions – is used to keep the blood pumping and protect the organs.

After Justin had performed several cycles, a first response car with two paramedics arrived. Justin was asked to continue doing CPR while the paramedics worked around him, getting a defibrillator, airways, oxygen and the rest of the resuscitation equipment prepared.

The medics put a device called a Lucas Chest Compression System on to Carmen which performs CPR at exactly the right speed and to the precise depth required.

'My consultant told me that I was lucky to be alive'

Electric shocks were then delivered by a defibrillator to restart her heart and medication administered.

At hospital, doctors discovered Carmen had a benign tumour on the parathyroid gland in her neck.

'The next thing I knew it was around two months later and I woke up after being in a medically induced coma,' says Carmen, who spent four and a half months in hospital and was only discharged in late January following extensive treatment and recuperation.

'My consultant told me that I was lucky to be alive and I owe a huge thank you to those who gave me CPR and treated me in those critical minutes after my heart stopped.

'Without my husband, Justin and the paramedics’ efforts, I wouldn’t be here.'

In England the percentage of people who survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is just 8.5, compared with Norway where it is 25 per cent.

According to a joint report by the British Heart Foundation, the Resuscitation Council and NHS England, if more bystanders had the confidence to call 999 quickly and be able to deliver effective CPR until the emergency services arrive then these rates would increase.

We’re encouraging people to sign up to one of the thousands of first aid training programmes across the country and learn the basic skills needed to save a life.

‘My children still have a mum’

Carmen and her family were reunited with Justin in June so that she could thank him in person. 'It’s quite hard to understand what happened and to think that a complete stranger just stopped to help me,' she says. 'Others may have just driven by but Justin’s split-second decision means my husband still has a wife and my children still have a mum.

'Justin’s first aid knowledge kept me alive until help arrived. I can’t thank him enough.

'I’d also urge others to learn first aid as you never know when you might need it.

'People don’t realise how much a difference it can make, but the impact it can have is huge – not only on the patient but for their family too.'

Sign up for a first aid training course and make sure you have the skills to save a life.