On the road to SCA

Post by Mike Munson

Part 1 of Mike’s story…

I had always run and in my early years at senior school started training fairly seriously for middle distance races on the track (ie 800 & 1500m) both for my school and club and over the years competed at County & National level.

When I was a teenager I had plenty of injuries but generally I was very healthy and I think until I started getting heart problems hadn’t been in Hospital since I was 4 years old.

Even though the intensity of my training eased up during my 40’s as we started a family and my career was going well I managed to keep training regularly.

When I reached 50 I entered the Dead Sea Ultra Marathon (50km in Jordan) and ran probably one of my best races nearly beating the 3hr barrier (for the 50km).

However a few months later a very strange thing happened to me in a low key 10km road race near my home in Essex. It was the last race of the year in my clubs annual Grand Prix and to win my section I needed to beat this guy who I would normally just beat.

However within the first half mile (bear in mind I am a very experienced runner and never would start too fast), I had this feeling of no energy and I had to stop and there was just nothing I could do.

After I short while I tried running again and stopped again fairly quickly. I wasn’t used to giving up so I kept trying to stop/start until I got round in some ridiculously slow time, collapsing as I crossed the line totally exhausted. 

I was taken to the hospital by a friend and given various tests. This was 18 years ago and from what I can remember I was continually asked about chest pains but I had none. They originally thought I had angina but after the treadmill test decided I had Atrial Fibrillation (AFib.).

I wasn’t given any medication or advised to do anything in particular and I had further “incidents” from time to time. At first, I thought I could perhaps warm up slower and for longer and it would help but as time went on I realised this was all random and the incidents became more frequent.

Generally then with the incidents, if I felt it coming on and I stopped, I could walk back to my car and recover but if I didn’t stop in time I would blackout. If this happened, mostly I would lay on the ground until I felt better, then walk to the finish but on occasions, if I was near the finish I could jog slowly for a few yards.

Many times fellow runners would stop to check on me, but it usually was met with me saying thanks but I was fine as I just had a little heart problem, bearing in mind I had been like this for 7 years and never advised to change anything or given any medical treatment.

In 2006  I moved to Stowmarket, Suffolk and when registering with my new doctor decided to introduce my self and explain that I thought I had Afib and he suggested I saw a cardiologist.

I was then referred to Papworth for an ablation. This was not successful but at least I was then put on medication (flecainide & low dosage aspirin ). This didn’t stop my blackouts an dizzy spells but I felt more confident that I was being looked after.

I am pretty sure one of the Doctors at the time had told me that with the medication I was on nothing serious (like death!) was likely to happen, so when I continued to collapse regularly I would continue to tell people I was OK. 

In 2012 my daughter challenged me to run a marathon with her to celebrate my 60th Birthday. I was unable to train properly and never managed more than 10 miles for my long run (even with walks & for those who have trained for a marathon will know this is not enough).

Fortunately, by running carefully (and luck I guess) I got round in under 4hrs so was happy to have achieved something. After 7 years on the same medication, I asked my GP for a review and he actually suggested I went to the local hospital for the review.

Mike with hard earned medal

They gave me a 24 hr monitor and it happened to coincide with our running clubs 5km race. Just before the last turn I blacked out and collapsed. A running friend stopped to check on me and I told him I was OK. At the final bend, he informed a marshal but she quickly told him I was OK and right behind him. The following day after returning the monitor I was admitted to hospital as they had seen my collapse on the tape. After consulting Papworth they put me on beta blockers. This stopped the blackouts but slowed my runs by about 2 mins per mile and I would get very tired even just warming up.

Subsequently, I took up trail running where we would do our own route finding. This would enable my heart rate (HR) to come down whilst stopping to find the correct path. It enabled me to enjoy my running see the lovely countryside, have lovely cakes (and other refreshments ) at checkpoints and keep fit. Socially it was (and is) a really nice laid back atmosphere.

Although I had run races for over 50 years I had never documented what I had done but when I started these trail marathons I was given a certificate each time so I started to collect them and had thoughts of joining the 100 Club. However, I had noticed around 2016 some events were getting a bit hard and at one in September I collapsed exhausted at the end and eventually the paramedic suggested my wife took me to A&E for a checkup. We didn’t go as I felt I just needed rest and I felt good the following day.

In March 2017 I collapsed again this time after the finish I had to stop on the way home to vomit. A common theme here was not feeling like eating at the checkpoints.

Mike with his saviours

On June 4th I had entered the Stour Valley Trail Marathon, an event I had completed 3 times previously. I have no memory of the day at all so this is all from my saviours and friends who went with me.

I travelled down with a couple of mates to the race and set off at a reasonable pace. One of my friends overtook me at 18 miles. Although I was slowing down I told him I was OK and if necessary I would be happy to walk the last bit. One of my friends then said she came across me down at 24 miles and phoned the race director to tell him she had come across someone who probably wouldn’t make the finish.

I actually got up and ran on for another mile including climbing a couple of stiles, then she saw what apparently looked like rubbish in the field but it was me and I was unconscious this time. She commenced CPR & kiss of life (other runners stopped, phoned 999 & helped with the CPR and elevating my legs). Apparently, 3 women kept the CPR up for about 20 mins whilst a man went to find out where we were and amazingly found an off duty paramedic having a BBQ nearby. He rushed over and took control.

The ambulance arrived after 25 mins. After three goes with the defib. and other stuff (I don’t know what else they did as I have had no response to requests to thank them) they got me round.

I am told I tried to get off the stretcher to finish the race when told I was a mile from the finish. I had 2 further arrests (in the ambulance and in A&E at Colchester). After 3 days in an induced coma, I came round, had a defib fitted at Basildon and was released.

No real explanation for what had caused it. Just out of interest I believe it may have been the hottest day of the year (at that point).

A nice touch the race director sent me a medal as he felt I had probably run a marathon distance along with a new vest from his club, noting humorously that the paramedic was probably from a rival club as he had torn and thrown away my vest!

To be continued…

SCA UK 2019 Event Announced

September 28th!

Mark it in your diary as this will be the 2019 SCA UK annual event date, to be held at Barnsdale Hall Hotel, on the edge of Rutland Water.

A central location so hopefully accessible by many of you.

More details on the weekend and prices etc will be made available as we finalise them, but you can rest assured it will be a great weekend!

Special rates for rooms are being organised so don’t book anything just yet.

CPR Counts!

As a survivor you know

Post by Malcolm Robinson

On the morning of 15th April 2017 my wife, Ann, and I set off by bus from near our home, heading for Birmingham city centre. I was going because of two reasons. There was a vegan food festival taking place and I also wanted to explore a guided walk I was planning to lead for our rambling group, associated with Tamworth Folk Club. This walk was to look at, among other sites of historical interest, the multitude of graffiti left on various appropriate walls in the Digbeth area of Birmingham, just to the east of the city centre. These were put there by invited artists, from far and wide, for the ‘The City of Colours Street Art Festivals’ which took place in 2014 and 2016.

Ann got off the bus in Sutton Coldfield town centre to have her hair cut and I carried on to look at the food festival before she would join me on a later bus. Leaving her in Sutton is the last thing I remember for about the next week. There is a text message on my phone which I sent to her at 11.27am which reads ‘Don’t get bus to town. I am coming home. Will tell why when I see you.’ But Ann was already on the bus and phoned me to tell me so. If I had already got on a bus I may well not be alive today.

I told her that I had an ache in my chest and was feeling very cold and thought I should abandon the walk. By the time Ann reached me in the city centre I was feeling much better and decided to carry on as planned. It seems, from notes I took as we were exploring, that we had almost completed our three-mile perambulation and were heading for our favourite vegetarian restaurant, The Warehouse Cafe, for lunch.

Nearly there, I suddenly keeled over on to my right side on the pavement. Ann thought I had tripped but soon realised I wasn’t responding. The fact that my tongue was lolling out to one side caused further alarm. By now a group of onlookers had gathered to witness the scene, one had phoned for an ambulance but no-one was offering further assistance. Then suddenly a stranger, Judy, was there (you’ll be hearing more about her later). Ann was trying to rouse me by shaking my shoulders and Judy said, ‘Don’t do that, he’s had a cardiac arrest’.

Judy immediately took control of the situation, got me on to my back and started cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and also closed my fixed-open eyes to prevent burst blood vessels in them. Another bystander (unknown and untraced) offered to help and between them they kept my circulation and breathing going for the 20 or so minutes it took for an ambulance to appear. The first call hadn’t resulted in a response, so a second 999 call was made and then two ambulances and two police cars turned up at the same time! With all their fancy gear they defibrillated me twice on the pavement and once more in the ambulance on the way to City Hospital, Dudley Road, Birmingham.

I have made some investigations since coming home and discovered that the chances of surviving what is medically known as a VF Cardiac Arrest occurring in the street is no more than 4-10% and then only if a competent person is on hand at that very moment. A lot of people might think they could do it but not many would be confident enough to apply enough pressure to fracture several ribs in the process (a necessary and painful side effect that I am not moaning about).

The ambulance crew wasted no time in stripping me nearly bare by using scissors to completely destroy my jacket, jumper, shirt and trousers. Punched a hole into my left shin to insert some sort of line for injecting an unknown brand of fluid into me and kept me alive until I got to hospital. Judy had left her coat over me before departing, leaving the paramedics to carry on with my resuscitation. Eventually the ambulance took off with Ann in the front with the driver; an exciting experience if it hadn’t been so stressful. The Police had asked if I had any other relatives that they could inform and she had given them my children’s phone numbers. They called Hannah who, at first thought it was a hoax call, having experience of some idiot making a similar call about their house being burgled a couple of years ago. She tried to call me (I didn’t answer!) and then called Ann who was in the ambulance and got the dreadful confirmation of the truth. Hannah, in turn, informed her brother, Mark. Ann informed her daughters, Laura and Eleanor. It didn’t take too long before there was a big family gathering in A&E. I, of course, missed all the fun, being blissfully unaware of any of the foregoing hullabaloo.

At the hospital I was quickly transferred to the catheter lab where three stents were put in my right coronary artery by Dr Derek Connolly. By the time I came out of this procedure all of our kids had arrived, and then I was transferred to Critical Care where I was kept for three days before being transferred to the cardiac ward.

In Critical Care I had numerous tubes inserted into pretty well every available orifice, was cooled down by a large freezer block on my chest and kept sedated for two days, before being warmed up on day three and allowed to regain consciousness.

Now for a few words about Judy. Without her presence on day one, and knowing that no-one else at the scene was making any efforts, or had the knowledge, to resuscitate me, I would not be alive. It’s as simple as that. What is more remarkable and bordering on miraculous is what I have learned since about her.

Judy’s Story

Judy hadn’t been feeling very well during the preceding week and was due to go to St Albans to visit her mother on the day we are relating to. Instead, her daughter offered to go to see her grandmother by coach. The coach station is in Digbeth. Judy had taken her into Birmingham by car. She does this fairly frequently and always chooses to use the same car park. On this day she parked in a car park which she never uses. On leaving to drive home, on a route which, again, she never uses, she approached a crossroads and noticed a gathering of people near one corner. Through a small gap in the crowd she saw two lower legs sticking out from behind a low wall. This was me flat out on the ground.

She pulled up realising that someone could be in trouble and, seeing me lying there, asked if anyone was qualified to help me. No-one moved but she learned that an ambulance had been requested. This was when Judy took control of the situation. At that moment I had no pulse and wasn’t breathing and had very little survival time left. I am at a loss, here, to know why the person who called for the ambulance wasn’t receiving CPR guidance over the phone.

(20 months later I eventually found out that the person calling the ambulance had told the operator that I was breathing – perhaps it was agonal respiration, that would have down-graded the urgency of the response and that might be why it took so long for the paramedics to arrive. When Judy arrived she took the phone and put them in the picture)

We have now learned that the chances of Judy being there at all were very slim, but how come she was the right person at the right time, considering that a moment earlier she would have passed by and not seen me in trouble. This is where it gets even more incredible.

Judy is a nurse who used to work at The National Heart Hospital in London and now is a practice nurse in a GPs. She had trained to use CPR, correctly, and had used it in the hospital. Like me she has had hormonal cancer and follows the same dietary practices as me, eating only plant-based whole foods, cooking everything from scratch. She often visits the same restaurant where we were headed for. We have both suffered the deaths of our first spouses and have remarried. We both have medical backgrounds. She was a British champion ballroom dancer in her younger days, but I can’t be sure if I was. Remember, I have suffered some memory loss!

After the ambulance crew took over the process of resuscitation Judy put her coat over me and left the scene to drive home. At this point no-one knew who she was, except that she had told Ann her name. While she was driving she suddenly thought that she might have left her house key in her coat, so she turned round and drove back to the scene. By this time the ambulance had departed, with Ann in the front seat alongside the driver, but some police were still there clearing up the remains of tubes, fluid dispensers and dressings that I hadn’t been able to tell them to tidy up. I hate litter! She learned which hospital I had gone to and drove there. At the A&E department she caught sight of one of the policemen who had been at the scene and asked if he wouldn’t mind seeing if her coat was there. He invited her in but she declined, saying she didn’t want to intrude on the family’s privacy. The coat couldn’t be found but it later turned up in the bag with my shredded garments. Judy later found that her key wasn’t in her coat anyway.

At this point none of my family knew any more about Judy than her first name, nor the identity of the young man who had volunteered to assist with the CPR. Hannah tried using social media, to no avail. Judy, however, could not get me out of her mind over the next few days, which I find quite flattering. She eventually telephoned the hospital A&E to see if she could find out if I had survived. All she knew was my first name and the date of my admission. The nurse she spoke to said that she too would not be able to rest without knowing what had transpired. She told Judy that I was now in the Critical Care ward and was put through to there. When she identified herself the person who answered knew that my family had been trying to trace her and so the connection was eventually made.

Judy came to visit me on my fifth day in hospital, but I have no memory of this and certainly would not have been able to pick her out in an identity parade. This is why it was so good to meet her when she came to our house for lunch on 18th May when we had a good three-hour chin-wag. This is when I learned the full story of that first day and when I came to the realisation of how incredibly lucky I had been and how almost spooky it was. Judy has had many psychic experiences, some of which she related to me, and is convinced that we were destined to meet. It’s difficult to argue against that.

There’s much more to the story but this will give you a good idea why I started feeling the need to ‘give something back’ by improving other victims chances of survival. Don’t imagine, like me, that it couldn’t happen to you, either. I had had no previous symptoms whatsoever, was very fit and on a very ‘heart-friendly’ diet. Cardiac arrests can hit anyone of any age at any time – hence the need for bystanders who know the life saving drill.

You can read more about Malcolm and his excellent way of giving back at his website CPR Counts