Joanna praises staff who saved her life

Joanna Ireland and her husband, David.
Joanna Ireland and her husband, David.

A Glengormley woman who suffered a cardiac arrest at a fitness class has been reunited with the brave leisure centre staff who saved her life.

Joanna Ireland from visited Sixmile Leisure Centre on April 26, two months after she collapsed during an aerobics class.

Joanna Ireland with the Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Cllr Paul Hamill, Jayne Murray from BHF NI and Isaiah Close, Tim Ayre, Alex Deaney, Lee Irvine and Janelle Close.

Joanna Ireland with the Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Cllr Paul Hamill, Jayne Murray from BHF NI and Isaiah Close, Tim Ayre, Alex Deaney, Lee Irvine and Janelle Close.

The 57-year-old suffered a cardiac arrest during the fitness session and centre staff took quick action by performing CPR and defibrillation before the ambulance arrived.

It was this swift action that saved Joanna’s life and yesterday she publicly thanked Alex Deaney, Tim Ayre, Lee Irvine, Isaiah Close and Janelle Close the five staff members who gave her a second chance at life.

Joanna and her husband David have made a donation to British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland (BHF NI) to recognise their lifesaving work in equipping the public with the skills to perform CPR and defibrillation.

The mum of three said: “Tuesday, February 20 was just an ordinary day. I have exercised regularly for years and attended the class in Sixmile Leisure Centre twice a week.

“I felt fine at the start of the class and one of the other ladies told me I wasn’t following the routine properly after she saw me stumble a few times, but I had no idea what was ahead of me.

“One minute I was taking part and the next I remember was two days later in hospital. I had suffered a cardiac arrest and my heart had stopped.

“Unbeknownst to me after I collapsed the centre staff took quick action and realising I was essentially dead on their floor they started CPR and defibrillation while also evacuating the centre. They managed to phone my husband David who rushed there to see them working on me on the floor which must have been absolutely terrifying.

“They kept my heart beating until the ambulance arrived and took me to hospital. I was later diagnosed with apical hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic heart condition I didn’t know I had.”

Joanna said without the bravery and professionalism of the centre staff she would not be here today.

She added: “I don’t think there are really the words to say how grateful I am to Alex, Tim, Lee, Isaiah and Janelle. They saved my life there’s no doubt about it. You never think a cardiac arrest is going to happen to you but it did and they gave me a second chance at life.

“You can’t put a price on a life but I wanted to make the donation to the BHF to recognise what the staff did for me and to help fund the research to stop it happening to other people. I want my story to raise awareness of knowing CPR and how to use a defibrillator, it doesn’t take long to learn but is the only thing that is keeping me here today with my family.

“If my story encourages even one person to get out there and learn these skills it will be worth it.”

There are over 1,400 cardiac arrests every year in the Northern Ireland, and devastatingly less than one in 10 survive. If this happens in front of a bystander who starts CPR immediately before the arrival of the ambulance, the patient’s chances of survival can double. Every minute without CPR or defibrillation can reduce a person’s chance of surviving a cardiac arrest by around ten per cent.

Jayne Murray, Head of BHF NI said: “Alex, Tim, Lee, Isaiah and Janelle’s brave actions saved Joanna’s life. They are a credit to the leisure centre and to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here to see them reunited with Joanna and know they gave her the gift of life because of their swift actions.

“We are hugely grateful to Joanna for her generous donation. It’s hugely inspiring to know that after such a traumatic event she is keen to give something back to help others.

“We need everyone in Northern Ireland to learn this life-saving skill to give them the confidence to step in and give CPR when someone collapses after a cardiac arrest. It could mean the difference between life and death.”

The Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Cllr Paul Hamill said: “Alex, Tim, Lee, Isaiah and Janelle are an absolute credit to the council. Their quick response and excellent care towards Joanna saved her life.

“Our staff regularly undertake drills and are trained in life saving techniques, and incidents such as this demonstrate just how vital this is.”

To help the BHF create a Nation of Lifesavers, or find out how you can teach CPR in your school, workplace or community group visit bhf.org.uk/cpr