Ron Hawkins is living proof of the importance of having defibrillators in public places. Diane Parkes reports.
The day that Ron Hawkins “died” turned out to be one of the luckiest of his life. For when he suffered a cardiac arrest in Solihull, there was a heart defibrillator near by and people fully trained to use it.
Which meant that Ron could be revived and why he is now supporting the British Heart Foundation’s Start a Heart Appeal to buy 50 defibrillators to be placed at busy sites across Birmingham.
Ron’s memory of that day in June of 2006 is fine until the moment when he suffered the arrest.
“I was with my son-in-law Steve and we were going to meet my daughter Jane who works in John Lewis in the Touchwood Centre,” recalls Ron.
“I remember getting out of the car and walking towards the shop and then I don’t remember anything else. Apparently I was standing there outside the coffee shop and I suddenly collapsed and hit my head on the floor.”
Luckily, there were two doctors in the centre – Dr Sharon Chadwick, originally from Solihull but now working in Hertfordshire, and Dr Chris Stockdale, a retired GP from Shirley who is still a practitioner at Birmingham’s Heartlands Hospital.
Dr Chadwick takes up the story: “My father was standing near to where the gentleman fell and he came and got me immediately.
“By the time I got there, the retired GP was already there. We began immediate heart compressions and then staff from the centre arrived with a mask and a defibrillator.”
They were able to resuscitate Ron so that he was breathing again by the time the ambulance arrived.
Dr Chadwick says the importance of having the right equipment and people able to use it on hand was clear.
“Although a defibrillator is quite easy to use it is imperative that people are trained properly,” she says.
“At the time I had only just recently worked as a medical registrar so had a lot of experience of dealing with cardiac arrest, but very often those cases have a different outcome as they have not received help immediately.
“To be able to help someone in a non-hospital environment like that and for it to have such a successful outcome was amazing.”
Dr Stockdale was about to buy a sandwich when the drama unfolded just outside the coffee shop.
“Someone came in and asked if I could help because a man had collapsed,” he recalls. “When I saw him he was lying on the floor and there was a lot of blood as he had cut his head.
“When I first saw him I thought he was dead. He was blue.”
Nevertheless, the two doctors attempted resuscitation.
“I started but I felt what we were doing was fruitless,” said Dr Stockdale.
“The Touchwood staff brought the defibrillator and after a couple of shocks he went from being an ashen purple colour to pink.
“In all my years of medical history it was one of the most incredible things. I actually felt I was watching a miracle. He had seemed dead and then he started breathing again.
“While the ambulance was very quick, those few minutes before they got to us could have been crucial. I take no credit for it but his life was certainly saved that day.”
Ron was taken by ambulance to Solihull Hospital before being transferred to Heartlands Hospital where he spent nine weeks undergoing tests. A decision was then made that he would undergo a double heart bypass.
“That was at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital,” he says. “I don’t remember it but my daughter said it was an eight hour operation.”
Ron had more problems as his heart was then beating irregularly, so he underwent a second procedure to settle the beat before returning home three weeks later.
Now undergoing regular monitoring, he is nonetheless a relatively fit and healthy 82-year-old who enjoys getting out and about.
“I can’t do everything that I used to,” says Ron. “Some days I feel a bit down. I used to love doing the garden but I don’t have the energy to do it any more.”
A sailor with the Royal Navy convoys during the Second World War, when he served on HMS Cattistock and then HMS Wrangler, Ron is only too grateful to be enjoying his eighties at all.
“They said that when I collapsed I died,” he says. “It was the people there with a defibrillator who brought me back to life.
“I am very, very lucky to be alive now. If those people had not been there to help me I should have died.”