Atherton, almost out

By Elaine Spector

My alarm went off at 5am on 8 July 2018 and I got up and had a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast in preparation for a 60 mile charity bike ride from Manchester to Blackpool. My cycling partner, Beverley, arrived at my house in Lytham St Annes at 6am and we set off shortly after for Manchester with me driving. I remember none of this.

Here is my story as recounted to me by those involved as my last memories are of watching the England v Sweden football match the day before with about ten of my daughters’ friends.

On the way to the start

At 9am, approximately an hour into the cycle, I suffered a Sudden Cardiac Arrest as I was cycling through Atherton. I swayed onto the opposite side of the road into the path of an oncoming vehicle. The driver braked, I fell! There was no impact with the oncoming vehicle. The loud noise heard by others was not due to impact but that of the driver’s equipment in the back of his van catapulting forward when he braked so hard and suddenly.

Beverley heard the loud noise and turned around to speak to me and realised that I was not there. She saw the commotion and upon arriving at the scene realised it was me on the ground. Someone had called the emergency services but said I was breathing so I was classified as a non urgent category 4 with an approximate 45 minute wait for an ambulance. I was actually a category 1 emergency when a response team should arrive within 6-7 minutes.

Graham Jones, one of the race marshals on motorbike and a retired paramedic, came upon the incident and immediately realised that I was in fact agonal breathing (the heart is no longer circulating oxygenated blood) and that death was imminent. Unbelievably, Graham had an automated external defribillator in his pannier and immediately began defribillation and CPR.

Meanwhile, it’s mayhem with hundreds of cyclists being diverted and vehicles unable to pass. Sitting in the traffic jam is Wigan and Leigh Fire Brigade on their way to the Rivington Pike fires (which had been burning for about three weeks) to relieve other fire crews. Stuart, one of the firecrew, took over from Graham.

Chloe Hall, 24 years old, a cyclist who is a nurse on the CCU at Liverpool’s Walton Neurological Hospital ignored the diversion and arrived on the scene and realised that I needed oxygen immediately as I was blue (cyanosed) and the reading on the sats probe on my finger was 38%. Chloe asked the fire brigade if they would possibly have a Guedel (oral airway device) and miraculously they did! Chloe took control of this and shouted instructions. CPR and defibrillation were given to me for 30-40 minutes by three people until the ambulance arrived. Miraculously, I had no broken ribs.

I was taken by ambulance to Royal Bolton Hospital and placed in the Resuscitation Area in A&E for a few hours before being taken for a Cat Scan. On the way to having the Cat Scan I had a seizure so I was put in a medically induced coma and given the scan. At approximately 3.30pm I was taken to Wythenshawe Hospital, still in a coma, for a heart scan. I was at Wythenshawe for about two hours then taken back to Bolton Hospital and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. The following day I was given a brain scan as neurological damage was possible due to lack of oxygen when I collapsed.

Awake

I was slowly brought out of my coma and by the third day I was aware of my surroundings but with no re-collection of events. Thankfully there was no brain damage. However, no obvious cause was found for my SCA and it needed further investigation.

Within a few days, to everyone’s amazement, I was transferred to the Critical Care Unit. After a week I was given the authorisation to transfer to Lancashire Cardiac Centre which is nearer to where I live, to undergo more tests. I had about three procedures at Blackpool Victoria Hospital all of which left the specialists baffled. They could find nothing wrong with my heart. Everything appeared healthy and was functioning normally. I was idiopathic.

As no heart defect could be found it was decided that I would be fitted with a Subcutaneous Implanted Cardio Device – a defribillator as a preventative measure. A day after my implant, I was discharged from hospital, three weeks after my SCA.

I was being called The Miracle Woman and one cardiologist said “not only were the stars aligned for you but the planets were as well” and looking back this is so true. I had been clinically dead and was very lucky to now be alive. The sequence of events that unfolded that morning were serendipitious.

Thank You

I have so many people to thank for my being here today.

Graham Jones who upon arriving at the scene realised my breathing was agonal and miraculously had a defribillator and kept on giving me CPR until more help arrived. I would not be here had you not passed the incident. (I’ve since met Graham three times).

Chloe Hall for her quick actions, knowledge and professionalism. Chloe was ahead of me on the cycle and luckily for me, she and her fiancé had stopped for 10 minutes to chat with a friend who lived along the route. I obviously had my accident just after I had passed her. (I’ve since met Chloe when she came to visit me at my home in September).

Wigan & Leigh Fire Brigade who were stuck in the traffic jam my accident had created and came to help. Thank you for having the oral airway on your fire truck and hank you for assisting in my resuscitation.

The Paramedics who arrived at the scene and kept me alive on the way to Royal Bolton Hospital. The highlight for me was learning that you referred to me as “female, approximately 40 years of age”!

Royal Bolton Hospital and everyone there involved in my care to keep me alive especially in those first three crucial days. Thank you to the ICU and CCU team. Every one of you were kind and caring as well as professional. I’m not sure I should say this but you all made my stay with you an absolute pleasure.

Lancashire Cardiac Centre, Blackpool one of the best cardiology centres in the UK at the forefront of new technology and new procedures (and only 6 Miles from where I live). Everyone here was brilliant and I was happy to place myself in their care. Thank you to the team on Ward 37 and everyone else I came in contact with on a daily basis. I kind of miss Ray the janitor (he cycles to work every morning at 5.30am) who chatted with me very early every morning! And thanks to the anaesthetist in that state of the art operating theatre who let me listen to Einaudi (I bet you turned it off as soon as I went under)!

The NHS for which I have great respect, admiration and gratitude.

Beverley Esposito my cycling partner and friend who had to watch as everything took place meanwhile giving as much information as she could about me. This would not have been easy to remember in such a situation. She also had the responsibility of calling my daughters and meeting them at the hospital as well as trying to keep them calm throughout the day whilst she herself remained calm. Beverley also got names and numbers of people who helped at the scene to keep them updated on events.

Keleigh 24, Courtney 22 and Camryn 19, my three wonderful daughters. Sorry for scaring the daylights out of you. What a tumultuous three years you’ve been through and you’ve been so strong, mature, brave and courageous throughout.

Llewellyn Boyer-Cartwright my brother who was travelling home from Heathrow to Nassau at the very same time as my accident was happening. Twenty four hours later he was back in the UK so that my three girls would have a close and senior family member to stay with them and support them. He Also attended my daughter Courtney’s university graduation in my place.

Donna Maura my sister who relieved Llewellyn two weeks later and took on the maternal roll.

James (I’m sorry but I don’t know your surname), who helped at the scene.
I vaguely remember that you visited me in Royal Bolton Hospital and that you looked like the actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

The Van Driver for his quick reaction to avoid a head on collision into me. I’m very sorry to have frightened and upset you.

Janette Dorricot who was behind the van and transported me and Beverley’s bikes to her home and kept them safe for a few days.

Family & Friends – thank you to so many of you that visited me whilst I was in hospital and to everyone who sent me messages, cards, flowers and prayers. Lastly, thank you for all your offers of help especially now that I’ve been disqualified from driving – subject to review in six months!

I can never express enough gratitude.

9 Months Later

I left the hospital on 28 July 2018 and August was quite surreal. My daughters kept checking on me if I was sleeping too long due to extreme fatigue, the effects of anaesthetic, the pain and soreness of the implant, visitors and generally getting our heads around what had happened.

During the following months I had numerous appointments at Lancashire Cardiac Centre and I can only commend everyone that I came in contact with during my various tests for their professionalism, kindness and care.

After being on Bisoprolol for 6 weeks (the leaflet states a possible side effect is hair loss after 6-8weeks) my hair began falling out in handfuls which really upset me. I had already been through so much so losing so much hair was devastatingly out of all proportion. After my SCA my thyroid levels were very low and I was told that after a SCA a patient’s nutrition levels are usually severely low and muscles very weak. These were all possible contributing factors. My cardiologist Dr. Chris Cassidy has been very supportive and as all my tests showed nothing wrong with my heart, he agreed that I should gradually reduce my dosage and eventually discontinue Bisoprolol. The Bisoprolol was also making me very tired, sluggish, gave my blurry vision and cold hands and feet.

Assessment

In November I was contacted by Bolton Hospital, where I was first taken after my SCA, to have a psychological assessment and to see their cardiologist so that they could complete my discharge. Everything went smoothly and both the cardiologist and psychologist were pleased with my progress. Once again, I must commend the NHS in my treatment.

Another physical and psychological hurdle was exercise. At the end of September, two months after my SCA I got on my bike (with my friend Bev who was cycling with me when I had my SCA) and cycled 10 miles very slowly indeed. Before my SCA I was cycling between 40-60 miles two or three times a week. I have since accomplished a 30 mile cycle (November) and I’m looking forward to getting back on my bicycle in the Spring. Slow and steady.

Beat Night

On 7 November myself and a few dear friends organised a Charity “Beat Night” to teach 80 people CPR and how to use a defibrillator. Training was given by safety experts REAX of Blackpool. The money raised was donated to the Blood Bikers for which Graham Jones (the marshal who had a defibrillator) volunteers. We are now in the process of raising funds to hopefully purchase two defibrillators to be placed in popular areas of my hometown.

Another hurdle was travelling abroad in December. My cardiologist, Dr. Cassidy, felt that I was fit enough to do so and gave his blessing. On the 14 December 2018 with travel insurance in place, and no problems at airport security when I produced my medical ID card, I very nervously set off on a ten hour flight. After my initial nervousness I eventually relaxed and tried to enjoy the flight but I did feel much better when my feet were safely on the ground.

On my holiday I tried Stand Up Paddle Boarding on the ocean which I was apprehensive about since it involved raising your arms up and over alternately. I was able to do so without feeling uncomfortable or as if my S-ICD was being stretched and pulled. Of course I wore a life vest and was always accompanied by someone. I also went on a speedboat with three powerful engines and I took the precaution of sitting at the front of the boat as far away from the engines as possible. I thought, better safe than sorry.

In January I attended a Snow Patrol concert in Manchester and again I was a bit nervous in case the loud speakers and noise set off my defibrillator but everything was fine.

New Normal

Life has changed dramatically and certain things I took for granted or instinctively did is now thought about in great detail

  • What if my S-ICD shocks me while I’m taking a bath?
  • Can I drown before the defibrillator kicks in?
  • What if I’m shocked while I’m in the shower and fall, hit my head and become unconscious and freeze to death because the water is still running.

I accept this is now my new normal and I know that I have been very lucky to have survived a SCA because I was surrounded by people who recognised what was happening and knew what to do.

It is now almost 9 months since my SCA. My body has odd aches and pains, I have myoclonic jerks which have improved, my body temperature has gone haywire, my gums and teeth hurt, I still lose words in sentences and I’m sensitive to lots of noise and chatter around me but according to my daughters my memory has definitely improved. I am getting stronger physically. I have started cycling outdoors and I go to spinning classes.

The good news is that I re-applied for my driving license on the 1st March and received it on the 18th March. I can’t thank my family and friends enough for all their help. They not only provided me with transportation but have supported me on my health journey and basically kept me positive, upbeat and socially active.

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