Eight years ago Alex Murphy then 51, suffered a catastrophic injury after being kicked in the chest whilst playing rugby. Fortunately for Alex he was brought back to life with the speedy response and expertise of quick acting by-standers trained as first responders.
Whilst playing Rugby at Twickenham in London, Alex was kicked in the chest leading to cardiac arrest. A cardiac arrest is when your heart suddenly stops pumping blood around your body; when this happens, your brain is starved of oxygen causing you to fall unconscious and stop breathing.
Alex suffered from, Commotio cordis, which is a very rare type of injury. It is seen most commonly in sports and causes disruption to the rhythm of the heart; that happens as a result of a blow to the area directly over the heart at a critical time during the cycle of a heartbeat.
Fortunately for Alex a team of volunteers were on hand and got to him very quickly, starting CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) before using a defibrillator (a device that gives an electric shock to the heart of someone in cardiac arrest to get it started). After eleven and a half minutes they managed to shock his heart back to life and start beating again.
Since this event, Alex is now a First Responder in the Clitheroe area with North West Ambulance Service (NWAS). His motivation was quite simple. He said: “After moving to quite an isolated part of Lancashire I realised how important it was to get swift response to those who suffer a cardiac response. And having been saved by the kindness and generosity of bystanders, I decided that it was important I was able to offer the same level of care that was afforded to me
“We like to get to someone within six minutes and start CPR but it’s really important that anyone who witnesses a collapse start CPR as soon as possible to give them a fighting chance of survival.
“I now teach CPR and Heartstart courses on behalf of NWAS to members of the public, schoolchildren and any other organisation. This course makes sure you are equipped how to give CPR at a moment’s notice, how to use a defibrillator and how to identify other medical conditions such as heart attack, catastrophic bleeding and choking.
“I have now responded to a number of cardiac arrests and done the best I can to give them the best chance of survival. I would encourage anyone to get involved and give it a go.”
Public access defibrillators are often in locations like garages and on the walls of community centres. Anyone can use one and you don’t need training to do so. You can’t cause any harm by using one as the defibrillator will only work when it needs to i.e. it senses when the heart is in cardiac arrest.
Mark Evans is the Regional Blue Light Collaboration Lead and Community Engagement and Resuscitation Manager for NWAS, and works with volunteers such as Alex. He explains how vital it is to start immediate CPR and keep the blood and oxygen circulating to the brain and around the body.
He said: “First Responders are volunteers that work in the community doing a fantastic job of responding in the first few minutes to life threatening emergencies where they can and do actually save lives.
“If anybody has collapsed, their heart has stopped and they obviously aren’t breathing something needs to be done before the ambulance arrives.
“First thing is ring 999 and get help. Secondly start CPR which is very simple, very easy; hands on chest pressing down. Thirdly it is more important to get access to a defibrillator. When you ring 999 the ambulance control room will tell you where the nearest one is.
“It’s really important to note that you won’t hurt anyone by using one. Ultimately when someone is in cardiac arrest their heart has stopped; they are dead. You have the opportunity to restart their heart by shocking it with the electrical current from the defibrillator. Doing this in the first few minutes can be the matter between life and death.
“Doing something is better than doing nothing.”
Dr David White, a GP in Burnley and the clinical lead for urgent care at Blackburn with Darwen and East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Groups, added: “Community First Responders do a wonderful job and are valued members of the urgent care system. Because they live and work in the community they can get to those critically ill or injured patients very quickly whilst it might take an ambulance crew that little bit longer. They really do make all the difference when faced with a potentially life or death situation.”
If you would like to become a First Responder like Alex, then go to www.nwas-responders.info or if you would to learn how to do CPR and to be able to give it a go, NWAS run a free 2 hours course. Go to the British Heart Foundation website and type in Heartstart for a list of your nearest courses in Lancashire.
To watch Alex’s story go to https://youtu.be/9Sk_VRYee1o