When retired policeman Dick Berry, left his doctor’s surgery on the morning of 2 February 2013, things took an unexpected turn for the worse when he crashed his van not more than fifty yards away. Dick’s survival was down to teamwork and unbelievably good luck. As former GWAAC Critical Care Doctor, Dr Leon Roberts says, “Dick lucked out with his chain of survival. On another day, it might not have worked.”
Dick retired at the age of 50 and was looking forward to a “quieter life” but it didn’t take him long to realise this wasn’t for him. Dick missed working with people in his local area, so he took a job with the council as a supervisor looking after parking on the seafront. This soon developed into a managerial role which he did for 15 years.
It was while he held this position, a fit and active man of 59 years old, that Dick suffered a cardiac arrest one morning before work.
What went wrong?
Dick can’t remember. He has no recollection of the days before or after. So, this story has been based on the recollections of his wife, his GP, Dr Leon Roberts (a Critical Care Doctor with Great Western Air Ambulance Charity at the time), the land paramedics that also attended and bystanders from the day.
Dick was on the seafront before work, feeling unwell, so he popped to his doctor’s surgery thinking he could make it back to work on time. This has been confirmed by two people in the queue in the surgery who happened to know Dick.
He then left the surgery in his van but only made it a little way down the road before crashing into a wall of the house next door. The alarm went up — the ambulance and GWAAC were summoned, and his doctor and others from the surgery rushed to Dick’s aid.
Being in the right place at the right time saved Dick’s life
It was unclear if Dick had suffered a cardiac arrest and then crashed his van or if something else caused the crash and the cardiac arrest followed. One certainty, however, is that Dick was incredibly lucky that his cardiac arrest was quickly identified as being such, and that it happened outside his doctor’s surgery.
Dick’s doctor and the surgery staff pulled Dick out of his van and performed CPR. They also used the surgery’s defibrillator to get Dick’s heart restarted.
Dick was put into an ambulance as GWAAC landed nearby in Weston’s cricket ground. Another stroke of luck was that as Critical Care Doctor, Dr Leon Roberts, and Specialist Paramedic in Critical Care (SPCC), Mike Page, came out of a gate onto the road, an off-duty paramedic spotted them and gave them a lift to the surgery in his car saving valuable time.
Dr Leon says: “Dick’s story ticks all the right boxes in the chain of survival of a cardiac arrest patient.” These include:
How GWAAC helped Dick
When Dr Leon and SPCC Mike reached Dick at 09:31, he was unconscious, but his heart had been restarted and he was breathing (although his breathing was very irregular.) Dr Leon said: “SPCC Mike and I decided to put Dick to sleep on the road; we put the breathing tube down and intubated him and got him smoothly to the hospital — the Bristol Royal Infirmary — where he went straight up to the heart laboratory.”
Dick says: “GWAAC played an important part in my chain of survival. They gave me drugs that the ambulance paramedics don’t carry.” Dick learned this from the paramedics themselves. Years later, when he was back working on the seafront, two first responders came up to Dick and one of them said: “It’s Mr Berry isn’t it? I was one of the ambulance crew who came out to you. I can’t believe you’re still alive!”
Rewind to that fateful day, and Dick was taken by ambulance, with Dr Leon and SPCC Mike at his side, to the BRI because it has a specialist heart department. Within two hours of arrival, Dick had a stent fitted.
Not out of the woods yet
Dick spent five days in hospital in an induced coma and it was touch and go if he’d make it because he was also battling Pneumonia. The doctors at the BRI didn’t think he was going to make it and they tried to prepare Dick’s wife, Claire, for the worst. Claire was told that the best outcome would be that Dick would survive but he would have brain damage.
Claire says: “This period in the hospital was the hardest time – the family named Dick’s room ‘The Dark Room’ because it was a sad and desperate place for a while.”
Dick spent a total of eight days in hospital and six months in recovery at home. Amazingly, he bounced back to his old happy active self. He’s a walking miracle in many respects; the only lasting damage being tinnitus (sometimes a lasting side-effect from the prolonged use of certain drugs in intensive care) and some short-term memory loss. Dick says: “It’s strange. I don’t think it’s just me aging gracefully, I really do have trouble sometimes remembering something that I did or said thirty minutes ago.”
Taking it steady
Dick had six months off work after his cardiac arrest. During this time, he went on a ten-week course (organised by the Heart Institute) for survivors of cardiac arrests. Dick learned what a stent looked like and how the procedure works. He particularly remembers a presentation by a cardiologist who started with an opening line: “Well gentlemen, (interestingly, it was ten men on the course) you are the fortunate few.”
Something else which made an impression on Dick was a phone call from Dr Leon checking up on his progress. He remembers the call well and describes it as, “very moving and a nice gesture.”
Dick thinks his speedy recovery might, in part, have been down to the fact that he was generally a fit and healthy man in the run-up to his cardiac arrest. Claire points out that just ten days before, he passed his routine wellness check with flying colours. Dick’s outdoorsy job on Weston’s seafront kept him active before his cardiac arrest, and after. He also made a concerted effort to get back to fitness with some initial weeks spent walking around the local woods, increasing the distance by a little each day.
While Dick lives with some (relatively speaking) minor side effects and can remember nothing of the day, it’s Claire that has flashbacks. She remembers the knock at the front door very well. Someone from the surgery drove up to her house to tell her that her husband had just suffered a heart attack and a cardiac arrest and was being taken to the BRI by ambulance.
This shock was closely followed by another when she opened the door to a second knock, this time to a police officer. Claire thought, “he’s come to tell me Dick has died.” But luckily, he’d come to say they were assigning Claire with a liaison officer – someone to stay with her at the hospital. With Claire’s wellbeing in mind, that same liaison officer also checked in on Claire a week later.
A positive outlook
Dick counts himself as one of the lucky ones – not only did he “luck out” with the chain of events that saved his life (1. Early recognition, 2. CPR, 3. Defib, 4. Post resuscitative care) but he is blessed with a hugely positive outlook. He thinks his positivity is down to his appreciation of, “my incredible good luck” and the fact that, “I don’t dwell on it.”
Dick thinks that another contributing factor to how well he has dealt with it all, is the fact that he feels quite relaxed in a hospital environment: “I spent a lot of time as a boy in hospital for my psoriasis so am not fazed by the clinical environment.”
He even speaks of his tinnitus as of an old friend, “In some strange way,” Dick reflects, “It’s almost comforting – like a little reminder that I’m still here, living and breathing.”
Getting on with life
Dick says: “When I had my cardiac arrest, I had one grandchild. It’s pretty amazing to be standing here now, nine years after my cardiac arrest, and to have the pleasure of six grandchildren.”
Now that Dick has properly retired, he spends his time running around after his grandchildren, going on long walks and doing aqua-aerobics five times a week with Claire — “It’s great for the joints,” enthuses Dick.
The pair also give a lot of time to the Weston-super-Mare (WSM) Lions Club by organising events such as the annual Mud Master at Puxton Park and the Real Ale event.
And there’s much to look forward to including a much-awaited trip-of-a lifetime coming up in January — a three-month trip to New Zealand and Australia. Sounds wonderful!
“Thank you to everyone who helped save me that day”
“From my doctor and the surgery staff to Dr Leon and SPCC Mike, to the ambulance paramedics… as Dr Leon said, ‘it all came together,’ and I feel very blessed. I’ve also been amazed by the work of the Heart Institute – they’ve been very supportive of Claire and the family.”
Dick recently visited the GWAAC airbase and admits that having gone through six months of rehab, and “getting back into the swing of things,” he hadn’t really thought to get in touch with GWAAC, other than to support the charity by doing their lottery. It was only when he joined the WSM Lions Club and was looking for a charity to benefit from the Mud Master Event that he was organising, that he resurrected links with GWAAC.
About Doctor Leon and where is he now?
Even though it was nine years ago, Dr Leon remembers Dick particularly well because he was his first patient as a signed-off solo Critical Care Doctor. Dr Leon recalls, “It was a memorable first day; Dick’s incident was followed immediately after with a call-out to another cardiac arrest. It felt like an induction of fire.”
“It’s fantastic to know that all the training and supervision provided by GWAAC came together on my first shift as a signed-off Critical Care Doctor with GWAAC. We were able to provide a level of care, on top of the early intervention provided by bystanders, that had a positive outcome for Dick.”
Dr Leon Roberts, Executive Medical Director at EMAS and former GWAAC Critical Care Doctor
Since training and working with GWAAC, Dr Leon has gone on to work with other UK air ambulances finally settling back home in the East Midlands. He still works shifts with the Air Ambulance Service in Leicester and is one of their clinical supervisors. He is also the Executive Medical Director for East Midlands Ambulance Service.
Dr Leon is especially proud of his involvement in getting the Circuit off the ground — an initiative which means, “we now know the location of thousands of defibs and that they are all working – that’s so important! The rescue-ready defibs can be located by GPS on our phones from anywhere in the country.”
GWAAC has its own defibrillator campaign which aims to help people and businesses fundraise for, install, and maintain Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in their community or at their places of work. All GWAAC AED’s are registered on the circuit.
“From my doctor and the surgery staff to Dr Leon and SPCC Mike, to the ambulance paramedics… as Dr Leon said, ‘it all came together,’ and I feel very blessed.
“GWAAC played an important part in my chain of survival. They gave me drugs that the ambulance paramedics don’t carry.”