'The Red Cross saved my life' Siobhan Jordan was just 27 years old when she suffered a cardiac arrest while running the Dublin Half Marathon, writes Mary Phelan
'Looking at her, she was incredibly pale, like a milk-bottle white," says emergency medical technician (EMT) and Irish Red Cross volunteer Ciarán McDonnell, talking about the moment he arrived on the scene of a 27-year-old in cardiac arrest.
That 27-year-old was Siobhan Jordan, who had collapsed during a 21km half marathon in Dublin city. The day started like any other for Ciarán who, as an Irish Red Cross volunteer provides voluntary medical cover at events almost every weekend. On this occasion, the Irish Red Cross was providing cover in conjunction with Code Blue, which also provides medical services at events.
There had been a briefing, and positions for first-aid patrols had been assigned; a team of Irish Red Cross volunteers were put on standby at the finish line, as well as 100m and 200m out.
Ciarán was kept busy with the usual issues during the race - a steady stream of people came over the line, fatigued, cramped and in need of assistance. But then, he received a call that was different: it was a request for advanced life support (ALS) for someone having a seizure.
Ciarán grabbed a defibrillator and resuscitation equipment, which had been placed with all the first-aid patrols as "part and planning" for the event, and he ran to where Siobhán was lying on her side in "what looked like the recovery position".
Another Irish Red Cross volunteer, Gary Ward, and Code Blue EMT Paul Kennedy, were trying to rouse Siobhán by shaking her.
At the same time, Irish Red Cross volunteer Karl O'Connor took charge of crowd management. He formed a human chain of race volunteers and people who had finished the race, to keep the area safe from runners who may have trampled on the crew treating Siobhán, or who may have become injured if they came in contact with the automated external defibrillator (AED).
"We rolled her on to her back and we determined that she was in cardiac arrest, because we couldn't feel a pulse and she wasn't breathing," explains Ciarán. "I took up position at the head, Paul took up position on my left and Gary on my right. That's called the BLS Triangle - the basic life support triangle. We're trained for that, and every person in the triangle has a job. My job was airway management, so maintaining a clear airway, while Paul and Gary each switched between doing chest compressions or managing the AED.
Ciarán recalls that while all of this was going on, Siobhán's eyes were open. "Looking down at someone's eyes which are looking up at you - in my mind, it was almost like she was pleading for me to save her. Now, I know that sounds silly, but it was like she was willing you to help," says Ciarán.
The trio persevered and Ciarán used a bag valve mask, blowing air into the airway in conjunction with high flow oxygen, while Gary continued with chest compressions until the defibrillator was set up by Paul and they were ready to deliver the first shock of the AED.
They then continued giving chest compressions for another two minutes. "I was using the bag," explains Ciarán, "and in between that, I was on the radio trying to coordinate getting an ambulance to the finish line."
At this point, the volunteers administered a second shock. "When the second shock happened, I could feel her breathing against the bag," explains Ciarán. "So every time I'd squeeze the bag, she would exhale, and as she exhaled, it would fill up inside of the bag and I would feel pressure. It's a really good sign."
At that point, a doctor from the medical centre arrived. "By the time he arrived, her pulse had returned, her colour had come back and she was now breathing against the bag," says Ciarán. "The machine did the job in the end, the two shocks."
By coincidence, this defibrillator was on loan to the Dublin volunteers from the Irish Red Cross branch in Dundalk - Siobhán's home town, and where she still lives.
Ciarán handed care of Siobhan over to one of the doctors and went to the finish line to direct the Code Blue ambulance crew. Siobhán was then transferred to St James's Hospital.
It's an event that will stay with the Irish Red Cross volunteers forever, but Siobhán remembers little, if anything.
"The actual race is mostly a blank," she explains. "I remember the buzz leading up to the start, the craic on the bus with my club mates, and the rush for the bag drop. But after that, my memory is sketchy. Cathriona, who I was running with, I said I didn't feel great, so I stopped and walked, and then she stopped and walked with me - something I don't remember, but I was so lucky she did.
"The race was on a Sunday and I was put into an induced coma until the Monday. I don't remember anything really, probably until Thursday. I remember bits - I kept waking up and asking where I was and what had happened. My parents had to keep retelling me what had happened.
"Initially, I wasn't afraid; I was pretty unaware of what was happening around me. Once I was more alert, the reality of my situation did hit me hard at times. Particularly being told that as a cause hadn't been found for my cardiac arrest, I would have to have an implantable cardioverter- defibrillator (ICD) surgically placed as a precautionary measure in case of a reoccurrence.
"I was scared, naturally, but I tried to focus on the other side of the situation - that despite the enormity of what had happened, I was really very lucky," says Siobhán.
"We go for runs up mountains. I go running on my own. It could have happened anywhere. I was in the right place at the right time. And thank God the Irish Red Cross volunteers were there, because if they hadn't been, I don't think I'd be in the position I am today.
"I honestly don't know how you can thank someone who saved your life, but all I know is that everybody said to me that the Red Cross team were there straight away, as soon as I went down. I think it was 16 seconds it took them to start CPR.
"I know myself from reading up and talking to different people across the world who have had similar experiences, that every second is so vital. The doctors weren't sure when they were taking me out of the coma - they honestly weren't sure if I would have brain damage or memory loss or physical complications. My family were prepared for the worst. It was recommended that my brother fly home from New Zealand - which he did. Thank God, physically and mentally, I am fine. That's down to those guys getting to me so quickly and, of course, the amazing follow-up care I received from the medics and the staff in St James's. I don't even know how you thank somebody for saving your life, but I thank them with everything I have."
First-aid training is provided free to Irish Red Cross volunteers. Click: http://bit.ly/volunteerredcross
The Irish Red Cross also runs first-aid courses which can be booked by contacting Lisa Harrington on 01-642 4617 or click: http://bit.ly/firstaidpage
First aid training click: www.redcross.ie/firstaid