Sara and Elliott’s story

When the first lockdown happened in March 2020, Sara’s 16-year-old son, Elliott, wanted to use this time positively and become fitter. One afternoon in June, he collapsed on a static exercise bike and needed the medical expertise and the fast arrival of the HIOWAA Critical Care Team. Below, Sara tells hers and her son’s story.

By the time June came around, Elliott was doing reasonably intensive training on a static Wattbike. He was using Zwift, an online virtual cycling platform, to compete in an online race. Two hours into the race, just as he was about to cross the finish line, Elliott suddenly collapsed into his dad’s arms. His dad managed to catch him and lowered him to the ground while I dialled 999.

I knew he wasn’t conscious, but the operator asked me if he was breathing, and I just remember saying “I don’t know.” He wasn’t responding and his eyes rolled back into his head. “No, I don’t think he is breathing” I told them.

I started doing CPR and it was either the police or an ambulance that arrived first. Suddenly, we heard something overhead. “Is that Air Ambulance coming to us?” my daughter asked. Next thing we know, the crew from HIOWAA were onsite. They ventilated Elliott and took charge of his breathing. I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, everybody is coming.’ We had a Community First Responder, at least two police cars, a large-scale ambulance and the HIOWAA Critical Care Team, but I felt reassured knowing that Elliott had the right people there for him. Despite that, I knew it was serious when everyone turned up, and, although it was scary, I knew the Air Ambulance would have gotten my son to hospital within ten minutes. In the end the crew were able to stabilise him, and he went in the back of the ambulance with at least two of the HIOWAA crew accompanying him.

When he got to hospital, he was kept on the ventilator for about six hours, maybe even more, but by the evening he was sitting up in the Intensive Care Unit talking to me. Although he was a bit spaced out, I am so thankful for the crew’s fast actions in administering him with drugs and medical care. He was in hospital for four or five days.

They concluded that he has athletic heart syndrome: where one side of his heart is bigger than average – common amongst endurance athletes. We have been told there is nothing in particular to worry about, which is very reassuring. They think that as he was cycling, he ran out of fuel and that’s what caused him to collapse. They had actually picked up a slight abnormality before when Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) came into his school. We were told then to get it checked out, but then Covid-19 hit and the tests were cancelled.

Elliott is doing absolutely fine now: he is in lower 6th school, still exercising like mad and fancies competing in a duathlon. He had supplementary tests which included a whole set of bloodwork done, to find out if he needed to change his nutrition. Thankfully, he’s had no recurrences. He is definitely more aware of the appropriate gels and supplements he needs to take before embarking on his sporting activities.

When it was all happening you just go into autopilot, and you deal with everything as it comes. It’s only in the weeks and months after, when you are back at home, you suddenly realise the enormity of it all. We are more traumatised than he is. He doesn’t really remember a lot of it, just what other people have told him. His dad and I are the ones who are still a bit jumpy whenever he gets on an exercise bike, but he was given a clean bill of health and there’s no reason to believe anything has changed. We have to carry on.

It was quite the day and every time I see the helicopter up in the air, I hope they are going to be able to help that person.