Thank you for saving my life

It was just after 12 noon on a Friday in December when Brogan Barnett, 23, and Danielle O’Hea, 25, nurses from Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, were on a day off searching for a Christmas jumper for Brogan to wear to their Christmas meal later that evening. They were close to giving up on their search and were about to go home, when they decided to look in one last shop.

As they walked into the clothing store, Brogan noticed someone on the ground, and despite the relative calmness within the shop, she instinctively realised something wasn’t right.

“I saw feet sticking out and to begin with thought that it might be some kind of training as there wasn’t really any commotion,” explains Brogan. “However, something made me walk us over that way and that’s when we realised there was someone on the floor and they were not in a good way.”

“A member of staff from the shop was performing CPR and there was a defibrillator by the patient’s feet, but it wasn’t being used,” Danielle describes. “We explained to the staff that we were nurses and offered to help, which they accepted and moved aside to allow us to take over.

“Brogan took over giving CPR as I got the defib [defibrillator] ready, whilst the staff from the shop remained on the phone to the Ambulance Service.”

The patient was identified as Sara Ogbonna, 24 from London, who was in Plymouth visiting her boyfriend, a student at Plymouth University. Whilst he was in lectures, Sara decided to take a wander around the shopping centre, on the lookout for a Secret Santa gift. Whilst she has some memory of how she was feeling prior to the day, she has no memory of what happened to her in the shopping centre.

“I don’t think I was feeling well that morning,” Sara tries to recall. “I remember someone from work had commented previously that I had looked pale and I remember that I was feeling tired but then I was feeling tired a lot. I can’t remember any of what happened to me.”

Sara looks to Danielle and Brogan to fill in the blanks for her. The two nurses, who have been nursing together for the past two years and are also close friends, talks Sara through their recollections of the day.

“We were giving CPR for around 15 minutes as we waited for the ambulance,” explains Brogan.
Remarkably, this was Brogan’s first time giving CPR on a patient, on previous occasions she had delivered it on a manikin as part of the nurses’ vital training.

“In hospital there is always someone who knows more than you,” explains Danielle. “You’re so supported. You have things to hand, like meds and oxygen and it’s not long before a doctor comes along. But there, we just had each other, our hands and the defib.”

As Brogan continued the chest compressions, Danielle gave Sara two shocks with the defibrillator and return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) was obtained by the two nurses. They handed Sara’s care over to the paramedics, who then took her to Derriford, to receive immediate treatment in the Emergency Department’s resuscitation area.

Still in the shopping centre, Danielle and Brogan took up the offer of a coffee with the staff from the shop, who were all visibly shaken up. The two nurses debriefed the staff.

“We talked through with the staff about how they felt, we explained that it was ok to feel upset, shocked, to cry and also the importance of talking about the event and possible reasons for the incident. We explained what the paramedics had done and what might happen up at Derriford,” explains Brogan. “When we finally walked out of the shopping centre, it felt so surreal and we just kept asking, ‘what has just happened?’”

Meanwhile, at Derriford, Sara had been ventilated and taken to the Cath Labs, where she underwent investigations and specialists looked at her heart. From there she spent a few days in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, before being transferred to the cardiac high dependency ward, Torcross.

“I remember being on the ward and wanting to eat but I felt wobbly,” Sara recalls. “People were trying to feed me but I wanted to do it myself. My auntie tried to tell me what had happened but I just couldn’t remember anything. It was as though I wasn’t there.

“It took me a while to realise what had happened to me and to let it sink in. I remember I wasn’t allowed out of bed and I didn’t get it. But one day I tried to get out of bed and couldn’t walk or even hold myself up.

“Everyone around me was worried but so happy to see me doing things and talking. I didn’t understand their emotions because I had missed so much – the crucial bits. So I didn’t know how to act towards everyone, even family.”

“I found it difficult afterwards and I did struggle until I knew you were awake and doing ok,” Brogan tells Sara. “I was working a night shift and I called Torcross at 3.00am, whilst I had a break, to see how you were doing. The nice nurse I spoke to said you were sitting up and talking and the relief I felt; I think I burst into tears.”

“You sent me a text just after too,” Danielle kindly adds.

That day and the subsequent events that followed have clearly had a very big impact on all three women, evident as they sat down together for the first time since it happened to reflect on everything.

“I remember meeting Brogan and Dani for the first time in Torcross Ward, I was quite shy,” Sara remembers. “I didn’t know what to say but ‘thank you’. I had no idea of what else to say.

“My family stepped in, thank god and became chatty and laughing with them. I felt pretty left out, I wanted in on this. Brogan and Dani were lovely strangers but to them they knew me well, which is sweet.

“I just thank them from the bottom of my heart for walking back to me when I was in need. I can’t thank them enough for being so brave and having initiative. They may do this at work but it’s always different outside of duty.

“They really did shine that afternoon. I thank God for them both.”

“I see that day very often,” Brogan reflects. “It puts it into perspective, especially with us all being of similar age. The way our day had panned out, with one thing after another, it felt as though we were meant to be there.”

Danielle’s reflections also highlight not only how invaluable the training our staff receive is but also how important it is for people to know how to use these life-saving pieces of equipment and to recognise what to do in these circumstances.

“When we were performing CPR, all I could hear was Jackie Williams [the Trust’s Matron for Resuscitation], it was as though she was on my shoulder, talking me through what to do,” Danielle describes. “There were moments when Sara took what looked and sounded like, to those around us, a breath but actually it wasn’t, it was a false breath, and all I could hear was Jackie saying ‘that’s not a breath’, which meant we didn’t stop the CPR, which would have lost us precious time.”

Sara was on Torcross Ward for a few days before being transferred to a hospital closer to her home in London, where she was fitted with an internal defibrillator, also known as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).

“I’ve now got two wires that go into my heart. If a change in rhythm is detected by the defibrillator then it will shock me,” explains Sara.

The nurses were really keen to stress that early intervention was crucial and to also offer reassurance to anyone who might find them in a similar situation.

“The shop staff had done really well in starting the CPR,” adds Danielle. “It is so important that even if it’s not the best CPR, it is started as soon as you realise the patient is unresponsive and not breathing.

“Early defibrillation is crucial too. I think there is a concern from people that they are going to do something wrong, but the defibrillators in the community have really clear instructions on them, which monitor the patient and tell you when you might need to shock them. There’s no way of accidentally shocking someone. If in doubt, it’s best to put the pads on someone as it will then help with monitoring them.”

The two nurses’ actions have been commended by their trainer, Jackie. “I think it is commendable what they did. They are clearly very supportive of one another and work extremely well together. They were absolutely amazing.

“When we train staff in life support, we explain to them that this is a life skill and although we are teaching them predominately to use it in their roles in the hospital, it will be something that will be taken out into the community, as Brogan and Danielle have demonstrated. The availability of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in public areas is growing year on year and we need to encourage staff and the public to be aware of their existence and to use them.”

Jackie continues: “I would hope that other colleagues, should they find themselves in this situation out in the community, would feel empowered by what they have learned during their training. The importance of the chain of survival is critical to maximise survival, early recognition and call for help, early good quality CPR and early electricity in the form of a defibrillator.”

Sara has now returned to work in London but is still regularly visiting her boyfriend in Plymouth, as well as Danielle and Brogan.

“I’m glad they were there at the time,” expresses Sara. “I am glad I took up the courage to make contact with them now; I think we will keep in contact.”

“I am so grateful we are able to sit here with you now when we didn’t know how you would be,” adds Brogan. “We will definitely keep in touch.”


First published in  Plymouth Chronicle – April 2018

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