Asthmatic Hockerill student Harrison Grose saved his own life by calling 999
Harrison Grose celebrated his 17th birthday on Wednesday (Feb 13). Observing a family tradition, at one minute past midnight that morning, he had his first driving lesson.
But it's a milestone that less than a fortnight earlier the parents of the Hockerill Anglo-European College Year 12 student feared he would not see.
In bed at home in Peregrine Close, Bishop's Gate in the early hours of Thursday, January 31, the asthma sufferer endured the worst attack of his life. Not wanting to alarm his sleeping mother Karen, he called 999 himself.
But he lost consciousness before paramedics arrived – and his oblivious mum had to be woken by them ringing her doorbell and shouting up to her bedroom to let them in to save his life. Her son was rushed to hospital, where he had to be placed in an induced coma.
Harrison does not remember what prompted him to call 999 in the first place – the asthma attack was not causing him pain, but his usual medication was not relieving him of the symptoms. He remembers giving his name and address to the call handler, but the rest is a blur.
Karen was woken by paramedics Dave Hatcher-Cross and Phil Smith ringing her doorbell, so she went straight to check on Harrison.
His bedroom light was on, his window was wide open and he was sprawled unconscious across the end of his bed. She heard the paramedics shouting from the driveway and went to let them in.
"If Harrison had not phoned for an ambulance I would have gone in in the morning and he would have been dead," Karen said.
Karen immediately called Harrison's father, Jonathan, who lives at St Michael's Hurst. He arrived moments after the paramedics started to work on Harrison. "We honestly thought we were going to lose him," Karen said.
Harrison also has food allergies, so from an early age Karen taught him to call 999 if he was ever in trouble.
Asthma is a condition which causes the airways to narrow, swell and produce extra mucus, which leads to difficulty in breathing. An asthma attack is when these symptoms suddenly become much worse; the muscles around the airways tighten and constrict air flow.
"Never in a million years did I ever think he would ever get an asthma attack like this," Karen said.
Asthma can be managed for years, but a severe attack can take the sufferer by surprise. The fear is paralysing when their regular inhalers do not work – Harrison was taking Ventolin, a reliever, and Seretide, a preventer. No matter how deeply they try to breathe, they still feel as though they are suffocating.
Dave and Phil called for back-up. As Dave drove the ambulance, Phil fought to save Harrison's life, giving him adrenalin, steroids and anything else they could. They needed a third crew member to hold his head still while they worked to resuscitate him.
They arrived at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow and doctors and nurses on the resuscitation ward worked for three hours to stabilise Harrison.
Karen said: "He was placed in an induced coma and intubated, his life hanging by a thread whilst his blood was de-acidified and a machine did his breathing for him, whilst steroids went to work on relaxing his lungs. Later in the night he was moved into intensive care after his condition stabilised."
Karen and Jonathan asked medics for reassurance that their boy would recover, but at that stage doctors were unable to confirm that. The parents were told that staff were doing everything they could.
"The seriousness dawned on us that Harrison might not pull though," Jonathan said.
The following day, after what seemed like an eternity to his parents, doctors brought Harrison around.
As he was waking from the coma, Karen held his hand and asked him to squeeze hers if he could hear her voice. To her and Jonathan's relief, she felt Harrison grasp her fingers.
Within two days, Harrison had gone from intensive care to high dependency and then to Locke Ward, where patients with complex respiratory problems are cared for.
Paramedics Dave and Phil were both affected by the incident, so they visited Harrison in hospital on their day off.
Karen said: "I just want to kiss them and thank them all – they fought so hard to save his life."
The paramedic duo are based in Welwyn Garden City and had been called to the Stortford area that night to treat another patient. They were with Harrison 23 minutes after he made the 999 call.
Karen is so grateful to them that she arranged for them and their wives to have a meal at Ruby's Indian restaurant at Hockerill.
"We’re so aware that this could all have ended very differently," said Karen.
"Our profound thanks go to the dedicated team of professional paramedics, doctors and nurses at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow. Their amazing work that terrifying night will never be forgotten."
Harrison is back home and on the road to recovery, although he is still off school.
His parents will never forget the night they almost lost their son.
His mum said: "I keep going in during the night to check on him."