A Tylorstown father whose life was saved by Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) Council Leisure staff, using equipment that was on site thanks to a pioneering partnership with the Welsh Ambulance Service (WAS), was on hand this week to see that vital joint working extended.
Rhondda Cynon Taf Council Leisure Services has a successful partnership with the Welsh Ambulance Service’s Community First Responder (CFR) initiative, which has seen defibrillators installed at leisure facilities and staff trained as “Community First Responders”.
This week, more defibrillators were installed at additional leisure facilities across RCT and staff will receive the ongoing training they need from WAS to respond to medical emergencies confidently and efficiently.
Lee Williams, 43, was training in the gym at Rhondda Fach Sports Centre when he suffered a catastrophic heart emergency which caused him to collapse to the floor with a dangerously high heart rhythm.
Gym staff Gavin Davies and Carl Roberts who had been trained via the CFR Scheme, stepped into action and used the centre’s defibrillator to shock Lee’s heart back into a normal rhythm.
Lee, who has a 13-year-old daughter, was then attend to by WAS paramedics who stabilised him before rushing him to the Royal Glamorgan Hospital. He was then transferred to the most appropriate hospital for the clinical care he needed, the University Hospital of Wales, where he underwent major heart surgery to repair a faulty heart valve he has known he has had since birth, as well as a narrow artery and widened aorta, neither of which Lee was aware he had as he was so fit and healthy.
It was a deadly combination of these three heart defects that led to Lee’s collapse as his heart struggled to pump oxygen to his body. Without the intervention of the Leisure Centre staff and the care he has since received in hospital, he is certain he would have died.
Thirteen weeks to the day since he underwent open heart surgery, Lee returned to Rhondda Fach Sports Centre in Tylorstown to be reunited with the staff who saved his life, as well as the ambulance crew who rushed him to hospital.
The reunion, attended by Cllr Ann Crimmings, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment, Leisure and Culture and Tony Rossetti, Welsh Ambulance Service’s First Responder Officer, was also a chance to confirm the roll out of the scheme.
New defibrillators have been introduced at Rhondda Sports Centre, Bronwydd Swimming Pool, Ferndale Swimming Pool, Abercynon, Llantrisant, Tonyrefail, Rhondda Fach, Sobell and Hawthorn Leisure Centres and the new Lido Ponty. A further life-saving defibrillator has been installed at Dare Valley Country Park in Aberdare.
Identified staff will be trained as Community First Responders by Welsh Ambulance Service experts so they can use the machines and deal with medical emergencies that may happen on site.
The introduction of the new machines now means that every Rhondda Cynon Taf Council Leisure Centre has a defibrillator and trained staff, as well as numerous other local authority buildings across the county borough.
Driving instructor Lee, who is slowly returning to work, said: “I hadn’t been to the gym for months and had instead begun to run by myself along the river in the evenings.
“I returned to the gym as a one-off and I felt absolutely fine. I was doing a circuit in the gym and had no inkling anything was wrong. It certainly wasn’t like you see on the television where there is shooting pain and I grabbed my arm.
“I literally just collapsed and that is all I remember until I came around. The staff saved my life, if I hadn’t decided to go to the gym that evening, I could have been running alone by the river when it happened – and that would have been it.
“I always knew I had a faulty heart valve and was under the care of a consultant at University Hospital and was preparing to have surgery when I collapsed in the gym. Following my collapse it was found I also had a thickened artery and a widened aorta and it was a combination of all 3 defects that caused my collapse.
“My heart was beating so hard to support itself. The heart feeds itself first before all other organs in the body. Because it wasn’t pumping effectively, it stopped the blood flow to my brain, which is why I collapsed.
“It was beating dangerously high and that is why the defibrillator saved my life as the Leisure Centre team were able to shock my heart into a normal rhythm in just a few minutes.”
Cllr Anne Crimmings said: “It is fitting that we should welcome Lee back to Rhondda Fach Sports Centre to mark the extension of the essential Community First Responder Scheme.
“He is living proof of just how important it is that our staff have the training and equipment they need to act quickly and effectively in a medical emergency and, thanks to the partnership with the Welsh Ambulance Service, we were able to do just that in Lee’s case.
“To see him walk back into the gym just 13 weeks after major heart surgery is incredible and we are so pleased he has made a near-full recovery.
“His survival and recovery is also testament to the staff at Rhondda Fach who acted so quickly and professionally to save him. It must have been an unnerving situation for them to be in and they acted calmly, using the excellent training and equipment they have had from Welsh Ambulance Service to help save Lee’s life.”
Tony Rossetti: “The Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust is proud to collaborate with RCT Council on this initiative which provides CFR trained staff at the centres. These staff will play an important role alongside frontline ambulance staff in making sure patients get appropriate help quickly and efficiently.
” Every second counts when you are trying to save someone’s life, and our partnership with RCT Council is hugely beneficial in helping the ambulance service provide the best possible pre-hospital care for patients.
Sally Gronow, Welsh Ambulance Service Locality Manager for the Cwm Taf area added:
“The partnership between the Welsh Ambulance Service and Rhondda Cynon Taf Council Leisure Services aims to reduce the levels of death associated with cardiac arrest that occurs outside of hospital.
“It is based on international research evidence which has identified that improved rates of survival from cardiac arrest can be achieved by adopting a strategy that strengthens the ‘chain of survival’ which in turn encourages and builds resilience within communities across Wales.
“This incident is a great example of the ‘chain of survival’ working at its best. We’re proud of all those involved in ensuring Lee’s survival and we wish him continued improvement and good health.