Sharon, 63, lives on the Isle of Wight with her husband, Tony. Now retired from careers in banking and IT, English Heritage and the NHS, she loves pottering around in the garden, making things and walking with friends on the Island. One Friday evening in September, Sharon suffered a serious heart attack and urgently needed to be transferred to the mainland for further treatment. Below, Sharon tells her story.
“The day that the heart attack happened had been busy, although I had not gone to my usual dancing class after having a spinal injection the Monday before – I was worried a fellow dancer might pull my arm or shoulder. I went to choir practice in the afternoon as usual, and it was a lovely sunny September Friday. We had supper, then settled down to watch Gardeners’ World – it was a special edition about how good gardening is for your health. When the programme ended at 9pm, I was feeling a bit pleased with myself as I spend a lot of time in our garden. Shortly afterwards, I felt a bit off colour, but the feeling soon passed.
“Half an hour later the feeling returned, and this time it was much worse. I asked my husband to call 111 as I was feeling quite unwell. They said they would send an ambulance when one becomes available. I started to feel nauseous and went upstairs to the bathroom. In between bouts of nausea, I laid on the bed feeling as if my chest was being crushed – the pain was very intense. Thinking this might be something serious, I asked my husband to call 999. Again, an ambulance would come unless it was diverted to an emergency.
“I was starting to feel extremely uncomfortable, more nauseous, scared, and unable to believe that it might be a heart attack.
“The ambulance arrived some time after 10pm. It took a while for us to arrive at St Mary’s Hospital due to various road closures – the crew had to persuade the workmen to let us through the roadworks on the main road from Cowes to Newport. As we arrived at hospital, the Air Ambulance was landing on the helipad. By now I was very anxious, wondering if I would ever see my husband or home again. I was transferred to the helicopter and we took off. I think my husband, left at home, was feeling equally scared. The paramedics were very reassuring, explaining what the heart monitor above my head was showing and what they were concerned about.
“If the Air Ambulance hadn’t been available, I don’t think I would have survived. It turned out to be a serious heart attack, known as a ‘Widowmaker’: caused by total blockage in a critical blood vessel.
“I remember the journey in the helicopter very well; the lovely paramedics, John and Julian, sat behind and alongside me. We chatted via the headphones, and I remember them suggesting that I would need a ‘LUCAS’ – a machine that can carry out CPR – on arrival.
“Recovering after three days in hospital took several months. I felt very wobbly, struggled with all the new medication, and found it hard to get an appetite back. I built up strength by slowly extending my daily walks. For my husband Tony, it was an anxious time, and he worried if I wanted to walk on my own. I now have heart failure and my own implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). It’s probably a measure of how quickly I’ve got used to having the ICD implant that I tend to forget that it’s there. I’m reasonably fit now but have to accept that I won’t be running up Everest any time soon.
“The crew on board the Air Ambulance made me feel that I was in very safe hands, didn’t assume that I wouldn’t want to know what was happening or that I wouldn’t understand what they were saying. They very kindly stayed in the Cath Lab whilst I had stents inserted, and then took me to the ward afterwards. I honestly couldn’t have asked for more.
“I would like to thank them for everything they did for me and for their kindness and professionalism. They helped to save my life, and I can never thank them enough for that.
“We are under the flight path of the Air Ambulance to St Mary’s hospital, and I feel thankful, and quite emotional, every time I see them fly above us. They are a vital lifeline for the Isle of Wight, as we only have a small hospital with limited facilities. When specialist emergency treatment is needed, speed is essential.
“What happened has made me realise that we only get one life, and we need to make the most of it every single day. I feel very lucky to have survived.
“I would encourage everyone to support Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance. It’s the only emergency service that can get patients to hospital at that speed, providing medical support whilst they do so. And, as far as the Isle of Wight is concerned, it truly is a lifeline.”