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The day that changed my life

People who survive a cardiac arrest often have a new perspective on life. Discover the impact on Norman and his partner Hilary who saved him.

“I was brought up on Dartmoor and there will never be anywhere more beautiful, but you take it for granted until something like this happens" says Norman Sanders, who suffered a cardiac arrest in June 2013. "The world looks different now."

He and his partner, Hilary, had recently returned to their home near Cullompton, Devon, from a holiday in Snowdonia. While they were away Norman Norman and Hilary BHF with credits resizedcomplained of breathlessness while nearing the summit of Snowdon. Hilary, who works as BHF nurse, was concerned. Once home, he complained of aching all over and was belching.

Hilary wanted to take him to A&E, but Norman said he'd wait and see a doctor on Monday. "We'd always had this joke about his family history of heart disease," Hilary says. "But I was beginning to wonder if it was something more serious".

Norman never made it to the GP appointment. He went into cardiac arrest. "It was 1:30 am," says Hilary. "Norm was violently shaking, like he was having a fit. Then his breath expelled out of him, just like popping a balloon."

A cardiac arrest occurs when your heart stops pumping blood around your body. You may have heard the term VF used to describe a cardiac arrest. VF is short for ventricular fibrillation, which is a type of abnormal heart rhythm. In VF, the electrical activity of the heart becomes so chaotic that the heart just quivers rather than pumping. A heart attack can trigger a cardiac arrest, but they are not the same thing.

About 80 per cent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen in the home. Luckily, Hilary had recently had refresher training in CPR. Nevertheless, it was an emotional experience performing CPR on the man she loves. "A million things went through my head," she says. "I was thinking about all the paperwork he's not good at doing, that i didn't want to organise the funeral and what would I tell the children? I grabbed the phone, put it on loudspeaker, dialled 999 and started CPR. I was on his chest in about 10 seconds." Hilary performed CPR on Norman for 20 minutes. "We're down a 25-yard track in the country that people often don’t know is there, but the paramedics arrived, took over, then Norman was whisked to A&E."

"It makes you appreciate life and your family and all the things that really matter"

Best chance for survival

It is vital to call 999 immediately and perform effective CPR when someone has a cardiac arrest. CPR helps keep the blood pumping to the vital organs, including the brain. It can also help increase likelihood of a defibrillator being of use when one is brought either by another bystander or by the emergency services. In some cases CPR can double the chance of survival.

Professor Peter Weissberg, BHF Medical Director, says: "It's a chain of events where, if any one link wasn't there, the outcome could be very different. We need people doing CPR to send blood to the brain and to help keep the rhythm in VF, as the rhythm can be treated with a defib. VF will deteriorate to a flat line in a matter of minutes, but CPR can slow down the rate of deterioration and buy time for the ambulance guys to turn up with the defibrillator and get the person to the hospital so the doctors can do what they need to."

Norman suffered short-term memory loss, not uncommon in people who have suffered a cardiac arrest.  In August Norman had a heart bypass at Derriford Hospital and recovered well.

Soon, he and Hilary, who'd been together for 12 years decided to marry. "Hilary wanted to get married and I thought, why not?" says Norman, who proposed on a trip to Maiden Castle near Dorchester. "It was a lovely day; we took our picnic and it just underlined how lucky I was to be walking around the ramparts. I struggled down on one knee to pop the question."

Norman celebrates his 60th birthday soon so he and Hilary are planning a trip to US. "I'd like to make it across the pond," he says. "It will be amazing”

by Sarah Kinder,BHF, HeartMatters Jan 2015

To learn how to perform effective CPR or refresh your life-saving skills contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 01494 429373.


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