Race to save cardiac arrest victim's life in Harvest Moon car park as first aiders are denied access to public defibrillator
First-aiders battled to save the life of a man who suffered a cardiac arrest at the Harvest Moon pub – unable to use a nearby public defibrillator because the ambulance service did not have its access code.
Desperate helpers resorted to ripping the life-saving equipment off the exterior wall of Thorley Community Centre to crack open the casing as an East of England Ambulance Service call handler told them it was privately owned and could not be unlocked.
The drama unfolded last Wednesday evening (August 18) as David Hall, 74, wife Janet, 73, and grandson Matthew Price, 19, left the Thorley Park pub shortly before 8pm having enjoyed a meal out.
Janet went to fetch their car when David, who has a history of heart disease, suddenly collapsed in the car park.
Matthew dialled 999 and looked on as his grandmother, a St John Ambulance volunteer for 34 years, began CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) on her husband.
Donna Duke-Llande, 37, of Parsonage Lane, was at the pub with friends when she noticed the commotion and went to help, taking over the chest compressions as Janet began to tire.
The mother of two and professional photographer described the “horrific scene” as Mr Hall lay lifeless on the ground with people unable to get to the defibrillator.
“We were told it was privately owned so the ambulance service didn’t have the code for it. It seems silly that it’s on an external wall of a community hall and the man was just feet away yet we were unable to use it.
“We were told there was one near Busy Bees nursery [at Thorley Neighbourhood Centre], but when you literally have a few minutes to save someone’s life, you don’t want to be travelling to another site for a defibrillator when there’s one right there.”
Donna’s efforts, along with those of Janet and two community first responders, proved vital until paramedics arrived and revived David, who was taken to Harlow’s Princess Alexandra Hospital. He has since been moved to Basildon University Hospital, where he remains in a stable condition this week.
It was the first time Donna had put her first aid training into practice.
“He was in a really bad way. I mentioned that I’d done first aid and his wife was quite tired from trying to revive her husband so I took over.
“At that point it didn’t look like anything was helping. He was grey, he wasn’t breathing, but the more I tried, every now and then you’d hear this very small gasp or movement of air.
“I thought ‘OK, he’s still there, there’s still a chance, there’s still life and I can keep going until the ambulance arrives and can do something to bring him properly back’.”
In the meantime, bystanders were trying to access the defibrillator.
“Two ladies who were first responders came over so I left him in their hands and I was handed a phone. I gave the postcode of the defibrillator and said it was urgent, but the woman took ages to check the system.
“One man started to rip the defib off the wall to break into it, but we couldn’t get into the box and had to leave it on the floor. By the time we returned the paramedics had arrived. He eventually woke up and was able to talk to his wife before being put into the ambulance.
“It was a group effort and without each of us there he might not have made it.”
Mr Hall’s family praised everyone’s “incredible efforts”.
The patient’s daughter, Debra Price, who is assistant headteacher at Windhill21 Primary School, said her mother – her parents live in Barnet – and son Matthew, who was visiting before heading back to Bournemouth University, had acted swiftly.
“Dad couldn’t have had intervention any quicker. Mum started resuscitating him straight away and he got the best immediate care he could get,” she said.
Debra was on a camping trip with husband David and younger son Adam, 17, when they got the call and returned home straight away.
“Mum’s saved a lot of lives over the years so it was nice that when she needed someone to step in for her they did. Thanks to all the people that stepped in – we’re very, very grateful. Dad has a chest infection, fluid on his lungs and they need to investigate, but he’s talking and is on the road to recovery.”
Debra added: “We need to understand why the operator didn’t give the number out and I’m looking into it. It’s really important to have a defib on the community centre, which has a football pitch nearby and is used by the elderly.”
She said that she was keen to fundraise and organise resuscitation sessions at the centre. “So many people have since said they want to learn to do resuscitation, especially when you go through something like this.”
Community centre manager John Bailey said the defibrillator was registered with the ambulance service and available for public use so he was at a loss to understand why it could not be accessed. He told the Indie the device was registered on the national defibrillator network on July 8 following a request from the ambulance service to re-register it because its existing local database, where the defib had previously been registered, would no longer be its main database after May 20.
An East of England Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We are investigating the circumstances of this incident by listening back to the call and reviewing the service data of the defibrillator in question.”