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Stamford Striders help to create map of defibrillator locations after runner saved after cardiac arrest

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When Tony Comber collapsed with a cardiac arrest while out running, he was ‘lucky’.

People he was with, who had first aid training, used CPR to keep his blood pumping and three portable defibrillators arrived at the scene within five minutes.

Without their efforts - and the electric shock that put his heart back into a normal rhythm - Tony would have died, or suffered brain damage.

Nick Sheehan, Tony Comber and Rupert Clifton
Nick Sheehan, Tony Comber and Rupert Clifton

Now fully recovered and back running again, the 58-year-old member of Stamford Striders wants people to find out where their nearest defibrillator is, and know how to use one.

“I don’t recall anything about what happened,” said Tony, who lives in Maxey.

“I had felt fine during the day and went along to the weekly run with Stamford Striders. Then I woke up three days later in hospital with monitors attached to my chest.”

Tony was running with about 70 members of the club when they reached a rest stop, outside the Drift Road newsagent.

Fellow runners heard a bang, which was Tony’s head as it hit the ground. Rupert Clifton was among the runners.

Having previously worked in a hospital crash team, the consultant orthopaedic surgeon established Tony had no pulse and wasn’t breathing. He started CPR.

Meanwhile, Nick Sheehan, a retired rheumatologist with experience of running a hospital resuscitation team, monitored Tony’s airway and checked for a pulse.

A 999 call was made and three of the club’s fastest runners sprinted off to find defibrillators. The first back came from Stamford College.

“I had been doing CPR for about three minutes when the first defibrillator arrived,” said Rupert.

“Once you attach the pads, the machine checks for a heartbeat and only allows a shock to be given if the heart rhythm is abnormal.”

An automated voice in the defibrillator announced that a shock was needed and, once everyone had stood back, it was delivered.

A portable defibrillator continues to monitor the heart, and will announce if another shock is needed.

Nick said: “I had assumed we would need to give him another shock but I could feel a pulse in Tony’s neck and within a short time he was breathing again.

“From my point of view things looked good. His pupils weren’t showing signs of oxygen deprivation and it was gratifying that teamwork had helped to restart Tony’s heart and breathing.”

The teamwork went beyond that of Rupert, Nick and the runners who fetched defibrillators.

Robin Ball, chairman of Stamford Striders, explained that runner Martin Candish, who is a Stamford firefighter, assisted, and a retired nurse looked after Tony, holding his hand and talking to him in case he was in pain or aware of what was going on around him.

“People in houses nearby brought out blankets and towels, a swimming instructor came up to help, and police and ambulance crews attended,” Robin said.

“ The response was calm, yet urgent and efficient. It helped save Tony’s life.”

For Rupert and Nick - and especially for Tony - the fact a community defibrillator was available proved invaluable.

“You start to become fatigued after about three minutes of giving CPR because you have to push in an adult’s chest by about five centimetres,” said Rupert, who works at Peterborough City Hospital.

“They also start to lose oxygen to the brain, which can result in brain damage in as little as three minutes.”

Dr Rebecca Schofield from Peterborough City Hospital, who came to give a talk on cardiology to Stamford Striders this week, with Tony Comber, Robin Ball and colleague Rupert Clifton
Dr Rebecca Schofield from Peterborough City Hospital, who came to give a talk on cardiology to Stamford Striders this week, with Tony Comber, Robin Ball and colleague Rupert Clifton

Rupert, who arranged for Stamford Striders to learn more about CPR this week, and to have a go with a resuscitation mannequin, also wants more people to be trained in the use of community defibrillators.

“They are easy for most people to use because they talk you through what to do, detect a pulse - which can be the tricky bit in a stressful situation - and only deliver a shock if one is needed,” he said.

Like Rupert, Tony is keen for there to be more community defibrillators available, particularly in workplaces, and wants people to familiarise themselves with the location of their nearest defibrillator.

From Tony’s point of view, being on a run was not the cause of his problem but what ultimately saved his life. Not only are regular runners 30 per cent less likely to die from cardiac problems than non-runners, but his fitness beforehand meant his recovery has been swift.

Being with a group of people, many first aid trained, also meant he received the vital support he needed.

“If I had collapsed elsewhere, I’m not sure I would have survived,” said Tony, who has hereditary heart disease and experienced a heart attack 14 years ago.

“I’m really grateful to the people who helped me on the night, and so are my family.”

  • Since the incident in February, Stamford Striders has provided comprehensive first aid training to more of its members, including resuscitation and defibrillators, to more of its members.

Similar courses are available to businesses and groups in the Rutland and Stamford area.

A sign in Yarwell points the way to a choice of defibrillators
A sign in Yarwell points the way to a choice of defibrillators

Do you know where your nearest defibrillator is?

If someone next to you had a cardiac arrest, would you know where to find the nearest defibrillator?

While mobile phone apps and websites are available, the Mercury’s research suggests none provides a comprehensive map of where to find community defibrillators.

As a result, we are asking readers to get in touch with the location of their nearest life-saving machine.

It might be in a workplace, or attached to the wall of a village hall, in an old phone box, or at a community building.

We would like you to take a look, tell your nearest and dearest, friends or work colleagues - andto tell us as well.

We will use the information to create a map that we will share, ready to be used by individuals and groups who might need the information.

For example, Stamford Striders, walking groups and people going on trips out may wish to know where defibrillators can be found.

We will also put the location of each of the defibrillators onto Google Maps, which most people - whether a regular Mercury reader or not - can access quickly on a mobile phone.

Please email the following information to smeditor@stamfordmercury.co.uk:

  • The location of the defibrillator - as an address, a description, or a ‘What3words’ location.
  • Whether the defibrillator is accessible 24 hours (such as in a phone box) or just during the opening hours of a building.

Members of Stamford Striders have offered to help to double-check details to make sure instructions added to the map are correct.

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