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Sarah and the people who helped her survive a cardiac arrest

23 Sep 2014


Sarah Walke was yesterday (Tuesday, 23 September) reunited with the paramedics and lifesavers who helped keep her alive after she suffered a cardiac arrest at home last month and beat the odds to survive.

Ms Walke was in her bedroom on an ordinary August Saturday night when she suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and collapsed. She lived, paramedics said, thanks to a sequence of life-savers like her husband and the skilled community volunteer paramedic organisation Hatzolah.

NSW Ambulance paramedics Benjamin Gilmour and Nadia Nissen were first on scene, closely followed by three Hatzolah members, Mendy Litzman, Dovi Meyer and Jeff Lewis.

When they arrived, Ms Walke's husband Donovan was providing CPR to his wife, his phone on the floor on speaker and Ambulance Triple Zero (000) call taker Kailee Moss giving him instructions.

"Sarah's case is a perfect example of how communities can work to save lives," Ben Gilmour said.

"In 18 years as a paramedic, I can count on two hands the number of cardiac arrest patients I have treated that I know have survived. In Sarah's case, it's clear her husband Donovan deserves every bit of credit he can get.

"Around ten percent of people survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, usually because someone on scene knew first aid and provided effective CPR until help arrived.

"The minutes before we arrive are critical - it's then that CPR literally saves lives. That's what Donovan did and that's why we were able to help Sarah live. Today, seeing her healthy and happy is amazing."

After arriving, the Hatzolah members relieved a physically and mentally exhausted Donovan. Over the next half hour, the life savers worked to keep Sarah breathing. She was transported to hospital alive in a critical, life-threatening condition. Paramedics kept providing treatment the entire way.

Sarah spent the next three weeks in a coma and awakened without detriment, defying all the odds.

Rabbi Mendy Litzman said the reunion was a brilliant example of why his Hatzolah volunteers gave up their time to become Community First Responders.

Hatzolah is one of many volunteer community first responder groups in NSW. They don't replace highly qualified paramedics, they compliment their work and often arrive first.  As in the case of Sarah, Hatzolah responders essentially became assistants to the paramedics in their treatment.

"Hatzolah has attended more than 25 cardiac arrests since joining NSW Ambulance earlier this year and this is the only one in which the patient survived," Rabbi Litzman said.

"Being here today, I'm really proud of the team. We're all very grateful to have been a part of this life-saving effort. It's great to see Sarah up and about."

Sarah's husband Donovan Casey said without the calming and knowledgeable reassurance of Ambulance call taker Kailee, he may not have had the wherewithal to initiate and maintain CPR.

"We will be eternally grateful to the many professionals involved in Sarah's life-saving assistance and miraculous recovery."