HAVING only completed my first aid refresher course little more than two weeks ago, I never thought I would be involved in a situation where I would be fighting to save someone’s life, writes Gazette chief reporter Tom Cotterill.
But that was precisely what happened on Monday morning during the commemoration of Rustington’s First World War memorial garden in Ash Lane.
The service was halfway through, with Warrant Officer John Street reading out a prayer, when 90-year-old Joan Fuller collapsed.
At first, no one comprehended the drama that was about to unfold with some thinking she had only fainted.
But within seconds, John’s wife Donna, a paediatric nurse at the village’s Zachary Merton Hospital, and ex-paramedic Stephen Perry announced Mrs Fuller was not breathing.
The pair began CPR and I rushed over to join them – having only weeks before spent hours practising on a rubber training dummy. I was joined by fellow first-aider Sally Cotterill, 42, of Sea Avenue, Rustington.
Between the four of us we provided life-saving CPR for the best part of four minutes, while people – who moments before were part of the ceremony’s crowd – shielded us from the prying eyes of onlookers.
Stephen, who is a serving councillor with Rustington Parish Council, said he went into ‘auto-pilot’ when the emergency unfolded.
The 57-year-old of Kingsmead, Wick, said: “In my 27 years as a paramedic, I have done this thousands of times before. I just went onto auto-pilot. It was so important that we treated her as quickly as possible.”
Mother-of-two Donna, of Woodlands Avenue, Rustington, said: “I just heard my sister shout out for my name. I saw the woman and she was on the floor and she wasn’t moving or breathing.
“I just thought of nothing else apart from helping. I was thinking about my training.”
Her husband, who has been in the Army for 18 years and serves with the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, ran to get a defibrillator from nearby while the team and I worked tirelessly on Mrs Fuller.
I have never felt so relieved as I did in the moment that she came to.
Within minutes of her regaining consciousness, paramedics arrived and took over treatment.
Mrs Fuller’s daughter, Angela Barbagelata, witnessed the ordeal and said she was forever grateful for the work of all those who resuscitated her mother. “They saved my mother’s life,” she said. “I could see that she had gone. I just couldn’t believe the group did what they did. I can’t thank them enough.”
Mrs Fuller was taken to Worthing Hospital by ambulance where she is recovering well from her ordeal.
Councillor Graham Tyler, chairman of the village’s parish council, said: “Members of the public were very quick to react. They all did such an incredible job.”
Mr Tyler added the village had a number of defibrillators, at the Woodlands Centre, in Woodlands Avenue, the information centre and The Scout Hut, in Church Street.