Woman saved husband's life after he encouraged her to become first aider

When Nicky Lack trained to become a community responder, it was because she felt as if she had become ‘lost in parenting’. What she didn’t realise was how invaluable it would be in saving the life of her own husband.

Now 44, she told of how life for her and Michael, and their six children between them, completely changed on one day in September 2018.

‘I got up early, because I’m an early riser and Michael tends to stay in bed a little bit longer,’ Nicky said. ‘But that day for the first time in forever, Michael got up early with me and came downstairs.’

She recalled their daughter Mollie, then 10, went down to join them and they all sat chatting and watching TV.

‘Then suddenly Mollie said: “Daddy you’re asleep,”‘ Nicky, of Buckinghamshire, added.

‘I looked over to Michael and saw that Michael was lying on the sofa, gasping for air and his eyes were fixated.

‘It was really surreal because at that moment it felt like the room was expanding and then shooting back in again, focussing on Michael.’

Nicky snapped into action and immediately recognised what was happening after dealing with a similar situation just two months previously.

She shouted to her two teenage children, Scarlet and Elliot, to call 999. She said her son Codey, who was just seven at the time, got very scared and ‘curled up in a ball under his bed’.

As Michael was 37 at the time and fit and healthy, Nicky kept thinking, ‘It can’t be.’

‘Michael is 6 foot 2, so I managed to roll him off the sofa and he hit the floor quite hard,’ she said.

‘I think I must have moved quite fast, but I remember just staring at Michael in disbelief and it felt like I was doing that a long time. It was like suspended animation.

‘I was screaming and started CPR but then made the split-second decision to go out to my community first responder car and grab the defibrillator. I think adrenaline just kicked in.

‘I put the defib pads on Michael and I remember pressing down saying, “Please don’t go, don’t leave me.”

‘The machine advised a shock which I delivered, then I started a second round of CPR.’

By the time the air ambulance arrived, Michael had come around. The family were later told by a cardiologist that Michael was probably down in total for about six-and-a-half minutes.

Nicky added: ‘He grabbed my hand but obviously very confused and agitated and I had to hold him down and beg him to stay still.

‘It was so surreal because everything had been so normal – a normal family day – until it wasn’t normal anymore. It all happened so fast.’

He was taken to Harefield Hospital, in west London, and doctors found Michael had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and a rare abnormal heart rhythm called torsades de pointes.

The only previous sign was about a week before his cardiac arrest where he felt ‘fluttering’ in his chest. Checks at the hospital did not show anything abnormal, but he was sent home with some medication.

Five days after being admitted Michael was fitted with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) – a device which shocks the heart back into a regular rhythm if it suddenly stops.

Symptoms of a cardiac arrest

According to the British Heart Foundation, a cardiac arrest usually happens without warning. If someone is in cardiac arrest, they collapse suddenly and:

  • Will be unconscious
  • Will be unresponsive 
  • Won’t be breathing or breathing normally – not breathing normally may mean they’re making gasping noises

Without immediate treatment or medical attention, the person will die. If you see someone having a cardiac arrest, phone 999 immediately and start CPR.

You can use the charity’s free digital training tool to learn how to do CPR in 15 minutes here.

Nicky added: ‘When he was allowed to come home, that was really scary for me. Not only was I really frightened and worried it would happen again but as he had to give back his driving licence for six months after his cardiac arrest, I suddenly had to cope with driving four young children everywhere they needed to be myself.

‘Everything had changed overnight. I didn’t sleep through the night for about 9 months.’

With the help of a patient liaison manager Thames Valley Air Ambulance, the family came up with ways to cope – and that included fundraising to purchase defibrillators for the community. Michael also learned how to carry out CPR himself.

Nicky also made the decision to qualify as an emergency medical technician for a private ambulance service following her experience, and success as a volunteer community first responder.

‘I feel that what happened to Michael has really helped me prepare emotionally for when I attend cardiac arrests,’ she added.

Key statistics about CPR and cardiac arrest

  • Just half of people (51%) in the UK say they would be able to perform CPR if a loved one had a sudden cardiac arrest
  • Around 80% of 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen in the home
  • Less than one in 10 survive these cardiac arrests
  • A third of people (33%) have never learned CPR
  • Almost half (47%) don’t know where to learn
  • Nearly a quarter (24%) don’t have the confidence to learn

Statistics gathered by a YouGov survey of more than 4,000 adults for the British Heart Foundation (BHF)

‘Because I’ve been through it myself with a loved one, I know exactly how relatives are feeling when they are seeing it happening to their loved ones and feel it deeply too.’

She said she also feels a ‘duty’ to help people to learn CPR in case it could help them save the life of someone.

Nicky added: ‘I go to so many cardiac arrest calls now where the loved one is just standing there screaming and panicking and they haven’t started CPR because they are scared or think they don’t know what they’re doing or are just in shock.

‘But I would say to them it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been trained in CPR and it happens, don’t worry about hurting them or causing any more damage because you can’t. When someone has a cardiac arrest it’s as bad as it gets and anything you do can only help – it can’t make it any worse.’

Michael, who is now 43 and self-employed in media, told ‘It’s very emotional and staggering listening to Nicky talk about what she did. I’m so massively proud of her. It’s still really difficult and impossible to put into words what Nicky did for me that day.

‘At the beginning after my cardiac arrest I’ll be brutally honest, I had lots of moments where I’d sit in the shower and wish that I hadn’t survived.

‘It’s such a weird situation where I felt I’d lost so much – like confidence – and my recovery was quite painful as I had broken ribs and a broken sternum and was coming to terms with the ICD.

‘But then I had also gained so much – I’d had my life given back to me. But my world had been turned upside down.’

He joked: ‘My ICD has come into play quite a bit – one time I was on the phone to the mother-in-law, and I think that’s probably what did it!’

Nicky concluded: ‘What happened to us was such a defining moment in our lives – because before that we just worried about things like money and paying off the mortgage.

‘But now we don’t worry about things like that we just live for each day and are grateful. Our priority is that we’re happy and the children are happy.’

During Heart Month in February, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) is urging the public to learn CPR for free using its online tool, RevivR. The tool means anyone can learn lifesaving skills, anywhere, anytime – and all that is needed is a mobile phone and a cushion. Find out more and support the BHF on its website.

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