How running helped to save my Dad’s life

Some of you might have noticed that I’ve been a bit AWOL for the past few weeks.

On Sunday 10th May, my Dad collapsed at the Bideford 10k after suffering a major heart attack, resulting in cardiac arrest.

He survived.

The heart attack came as a complete shock to all of us. Anyone who knows my Dad can tell you that he’s healthy; he eats well; he storms through hilly coastal walks and can handle even the toughest hikes across Exmoor without batting an eyelid; he’s a great runner (his marathon and half marathon PBs are better than mine!) and he cycles to and from the station for work every day. He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink much, doesn’t eat takeaways or sit in front of the TV for hours, or any of those other unhealthy clichés.

Unfortunately, it turns out that he suffered from undiagnosed heart disease, and probably had done for decades. The symptoms are easy to brush off – feeling tired and achey, a bit of indigestion and some chest pain, breathlessness. It’s easy to tell yourself that you’ve just had a few hard weeks at work, are staying up too late, or training too hard. Some even blame age – though at 56, my Dad’s certainly not old.

When my Dad collapsed, the first person on the scene was another runner, who began CPR. It was a second runner who took over the CPR, which gave the paramedics time to get to my Dad with a defibrillator to restart his heart. Bideford 10k is a small, club-run, low-key event, but the fantastic organisation on the day and the actions of the runners, marshals, and event organisers meant that my Dad was able to be transferred to the Devon Air Ambulance helicopter and stabilized enough to be taken to hospital.

The doctors told us that the reason he remained stable and handled the surgery so well is because he’s been fit and healthy for a number of years now – and that’s largely thanks to his decision to start running! The running caused him to rethink his diet, and the training helped to strengthen his heart, despite the damage having been done decades before.

The fact that the attack happened at Bideford 10k meant he was able to get the medical attention he needed at the time. Amazingly, the runner who began the CPR just happened to be a GP – and the second runner just happened to have completed an advanced first aid course the week before! Talk about amazing coincidences.

I’ll be forever grateful to that race, and to those runners, as they kept him alive long enough for the ambulance to get to him.

The air ambulance took him straight from Bideford to Exeter hospital. From there, he was then transferred to London where he underwent a triple bypass operation, and thanks to all this he is now at home and recovering well.

Without the air ambulance, he might not have made it this far. It was their incredibly fast response (they were already waiting for him by the time the ambulance got him back into town) that meant he was able to be stabilised quickly enough and transferred to hospital before any lasting damage was done.

I was amazed to learn that the Devon Air Ambulance Trust (DAAT) only have 2 helicopters for the huge area they cover – and scarily, the first was already out on call when my Dad collapsed.

DAAT is a recognised charity, and needs to raise a huge £4.5 million every year just to keep their service going. They also need to raise an additional £1 million to meet their maintenance and repair costs, and to extend their operating hours. Without our help, they can’t do their job – and that job is essential. You can find out more about their service here.

Whilst we’ve tracked down the runners and marshals and race organisers to express our thanks for what they did, it’s hard to know how to really thank someone for saving the life of a loved one. I mean, what on earth can you possibly offer to repay something that big?

Whilst I’m still trying to answer that, what I can do in the meantime is support the DAAT charity so that they can keep their amazing service going. But I can’t do that alone!

I’m going to be cycling the Prudential Ride 100 (yep, that’s 100 MILES) in August to raise money for the Devon Air Ambulance, and I would be so grateful if you could spare even a few pennies. Donations can be made either online or by text:

Online, via my JustGiving page: JustGiving – Cycling 100 miles for the DAAT
By texting PTLA58 and your donation amount (£1, £2, £3, £4, £5, or £10) to 70070

I just want to end this by saying a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart to the DAAT, the Bideford 10k runners, marshals and organisers, the staff at Exeter and Hammersmith hospitals and all of the other wonderful people that have helped and supported us over the last few weeks. We couldn’t have got through this without you.

I love you, Dad.

– – –

There are some brilliant resources on the British Heart Foundation website on risk factors and how to keep your heart healthy: www.bhf.org.uk.

Know the warning signs: How healthy is your heart?

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10 thoughts on “How running helped to save my Dad’s life

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  4. Wow, how strange to come across this when searching for advice on which foreign marathon to run! I’m Dave the second runner at Bideford. So glad to hear your dad is recovering and it’s great that you are raising money for DAAT.

    • Wow, small world! I’m so glad you commented, as now I can say a huge THANK YOU personally, you wonderful man! (Not that a ‘thank you’ really cuts it!) Thanks to you and all of the others that stepped in on the day, my Dad is now doing brilliantly. I feel so blessed and lucky for the way things panned out. I hope you’re well, too!

      • That’s great news to hear! So happy that he is ok now. That day is certainly going through stick in my memory forever. Forgive me for my lack of knowledge on the subject but is he likely to be able to run again?
        As for me, I’m doing ok. Still running and looking to do my first marathon next year to celebrate turning 30!

      • According to the doctors, he’s expected to make a full recovery – and is keen to get back into his running shoes. I’ve told him he’s not allowed to beat any of my times though!

        I’m glad you’re well. And good luck with your marathon training! Any idea which one you’ll do? I can highly recommend either Brighton or Paris 🙂

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  6. How scary. So pleased to hear that your Dad is ok and great that the first 2 runners to help were so well qualified! Hope he’s on the mend!

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