In June last year, 29 year old Zoe was shopping in central London when she collapsed. She was in cardiac arrest. Her heart had stopped completely and she was, in effect, clinically dead. Without her heart pumping blood, no oxygen would get to her brain and could cause catastrophic brain damage within minutes.
Thankfully there were people who witnessed her collapse who started immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). London Ambulance Service cycle responder Eoin Walker (also an emeritus paramedic for London’s Air Ambulance) was on scene within minutes with a defibrillator to shock Zoe’s heart. He got a return of spontaneous circulation, however, she did not wake up and whilst she had a heart rhythm she was still not responding and deeply unconscious.
Dr Gareth Davies and paramedic Nick Harding were on duty in the Physician Response Unit, a fast response car run by London’s Air Ambulance that, as well as senior doctor expertise, carries specialist drugs and equipment to treat a range of medical emergencies including patients who collapse in cardiac arrest.
They immediately gave Zoe cooling fluids and an anaesthetic to protect her brain and vital organs. The cold fluids quickly brought Zoe’s body temperature down to around 34 degrees. The fluids minimise the effects of reduced blood supply to the brain. This, combined with putting her into an induced coma by giving her an anaesthetic and taking over her breathing by putting her on a ventilator, gave Zoe the best chance of not only surviving but doing so without damage to her brain.
Once Dr Davies and the team on scene were happy that Zoe was stable enough to move to hospital, they took her to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington where they did urgent scans to establish whether her cardiac arrest was caused by a heart issue or a bleed on the brain. Two days later, whilst still in an induced coma she was transferred to Hammersmith Hospital and was brought round from the coma the following day.
Zoe has made a great recovery and escaped brain damage. She has had an implantable defibrillator fitted, has regular cardiology check ups and is very much getting on with her life.
Reflecting on what happened to her, Zoe said: “Eight months have passed since my cardiac arrest and I have thought of the amazing people who saved me everyday. I am extremely grateful to Dr Gareth Davies, paramedic Nick Harding, London’s Air Ambulance and the people of London - without them my life would not be what it is."
Zoe’s story was recently featured in the BBC Two documentary An Hour To Save Your Life. You can catch up here
Photo caption: Eoin Walker, patient Zoe and Dr Gareth Davies