Cardiac arrest survivor reunited with Paramedic who saved her life

Rita and husband Raymond with Ardoyne Paramedic Gavin Coogan.
Rita and husband Raymond with Ardoyne Paramedic Gavin Coogan.

People don’t get to choose where they suffer a cardiac arrest.

If you could, however, where would you choose?

What about just outside a hospital with a paramedic only yards away?

Well, that is exactly what happened to Newtownabbey woman, Rita Thomas.

On January 6, Rita had experienced a bit of chest pain and took herself, the next day, to the Mater hospital in Belfast where she was checked over and neither her bloods nor ECG showed up anything irregular.

Rita left the hospital and walked out on to the Crumlin Road where she collapsed.

Passers by ran to an ambulance parked at the Emergency Department (ED) and alerted Ardoyne Paramedic Gavin Coogan to what had happened. Gavin immediately went to her aid, instructing others to get more help from the ED. CPR was started within seconds and within minutes Rita was being cared for in the ED.

Things were looking bleak, however, and, later that evening, her husband, Raymond, was told to prepare himself.

However, overnight Rita’s condition started to improve and the following day she opened her eyes to see only bright lights above her and ceiling panels. Rita remembers her first thought was: “What happened to me? Why am I here?”. It was all explained to her and she was told she would be transferred to the RVH to have a stent inserted.

The Newtownabbey woman is already back at work.

She knows that everything went her way the day her heart arrested – outside a hospital and a paramedic on hand - and believes that Gavin was meant to be there on that day.

Earlier this month Rita had an emotional reunion with an off-duty Gavin in Ardoyne Ambulance Station to thank him personally for what he had done. Gavin, in his modest way, was quick to share the credit with the passer by who alerted him immediately to Rita and to the medical teams in the Mater.

A spokesperson for Northern Ireland Ambulance Service said: “Between them all, on that day, they did what they were called to do – save a life.

“What about you? Would you know what to do if someone collapsed in front of you – a parent, a sibling, a friend or even a stranger? With early intervention, people can survive out of hospital cardiac arrest.

“Now is the time to learn CPR – not tomorrow or the day after, or next week or next month. It is now.

“Join the drive for a #communityoflifesavers. You never know when you could be called upon to save a life.”