999 heroes help dad save girlfriend's life after heart attack

A quick-witted South Tyneside dad has told how he saved the life of his fiancée – thanks to his long-forgotten medical skills and the expertise of a 999 call handler.

Tuesday, 25th June 2019, 3:25 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th June 2019, 5:46 pm
Cardiac arrest patient Sam Purcell says thank you for the help from North East Ambulance Service. Front from left, student paramedic Christopher Howell and paramedic Martin Rowntree with children Ella Purcell, five and Jake Shepherd, two. Back from left Christopher Bradley and partner Steve Shepherd

Steven Shepherd, 28, brought girlfriend Sam Purcell, 37, back from the dead after she suffered a cardiac arrest in a chair at home and stopped breathing.

The shop worker administered CPR – remembered from a workplace training session years before – to get her heart beating.

But he admits he would have failed if not for instructions delivered over a mobile phone by ambulance health adviser Christopher Bradley.

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Cardiac arrest patient Sam Purcell with partner Steve Shepherd with children Ella Purcell, five and Jake Shepherd, two.

He was told to pull stricken Sam onto the floor of their home in Bunyan Avenue, Biddick Hall, and apply chest compressions.

It was two minutes before the mum-of-two, an admin manager with Asda at Boldon Colliery, took her first breath.

Though saved, paramedics who raced to the scene had to shock her four times to get her heart safely back into its natural rhythm.

She was rushed to hospital, where she spent 16 days recovering, during which she was fitted with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator to regulate her heartbeat.

Cardiac arrest patient Sam Purcell with student paramedic Christopher Howell and paramedic Martin Rowntree.

Steven, a porter at the same Asda branch, and Sam have now praised the 999 team which saved her life – and urged people to learn CPR.

“The call handler was really good and gave me clear instructions. I couldn’t find a pulse and so I was told me to get Sam on the floor and start CPR.

“Sam was stone cold and extremely grey in colour. I was screaming for her to come back to me. I really thought I’d lost her.”

Steven added: “When I pulled her on to the floor, her head flopped – that was when I thought she was dead.

“I started applying CPR – I wasn’t convinced that she was going to make it – and it must have been two minutes before she took a breath.

“I guess I just knew what to do, but I couldn’t have done it if Chris hadn’t been on the end of the phone. It wasn’t Sam’s time to go.”

Sam, mum to Ella, five, and Jake, two, suffered the cardiac arrest due to a medical condition called cardiomyopathy.

Diagnosed in September 2017, it means the left side of her heart is unable to fully work, but she had suffered no previous ill-effects.

She remembers sitting down to eat a chicken curry and taking one mouthful – at which point she blanked out.

Sam said: “I was on a day off and had driven the kids to school, picked Steven up from work and then prepared a meal, and that’s all remember.

“I can never thank Steven enough for what he did, I’m just so very grateful that he was there when it happened.

“He was meant to be there – if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here now. The medical team was also amazing.

“I think everyone should be educated in delivering CPR as this is it can be the difference between life and death.

“Steven had received basic CPR training through his work and ultimately, this gave him the skills and confidence he needed to help save my life.

“I think at least one person in the family should know about CPR and how to perform it.”

Christopher, who works for the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS), said he almost immediately recognised how serious Sam’s condition was and knew he had to talk Steven into giving her CPR.

He said: “I talked him through the rhythm of the chest compressions whilst the ambulance was on its way.

“Luckily Steven already had basic first aid training in CPR, which was crucial in him helping Sam because when I was talking him through the chest compressions, he remembered the skills he had learned.

“I would urge anyone to take part in CPR training. Like Steven, you never know when you might need to use the skills and the most important thing is that you can save a life.”

The paramedics who attended were Martin Rowntree and student paramedic Christopher Howell.