On 20th August 2013 Jack-Charlie was at home with his mum Tracy – it was the summer holidays, and Tracy was in the kitchen making toast for breakfast, while Jack-Charlie was on the sofa snacking on yoghurt covered raisins. He was due to go on holiday with his dad later that day.
Tracy came back into the room and Jack-Charlie had gone rigid and his head was lolled back. Tracy initially thought he had choked on the raisins he’d been eating, so she patted his back and tried to dislodge whatever might have been stuck. When this didn’t help Tracy called 999.
The call handler on the other end of the phone asked Tracy if Jack-Charlie was breathing, when she checked he wasn’t, so she was advised to put him on the floor and to start CPR immediately while they talked her through it.
The rapid response paramedic arrived a few minutes later and told Tracy to keep doing what she was doing – in all she did CPR for about 13 minutes while other paramedics arrived and set up their defibrillator . The paramedic crew then took over and told Tracy to go and get dressed while they worked on Jack-Charlie, as they would certainly be going to hospital. Tracy saw Jack-Charlie jolt upwards as they used the defibrillator on him before she went off to get dressed. The paramedics did manage to get Jack-Charlie’s heart beating on its own again.
‘Thanks to Tracy’s quick thinking and CPR there was no damage to Jack-Charlie’s brain.’
The helicopter arrived to take Jack-Charlie to the hospital – the crew were critical-care paramedic Neil Flowers and doctor Jenny Townsend. They put Jack-Charlie onto a trolley and wheeled him out to the helicopter. There wasn’t room for Tracy in the aircraft, so the police took Tracy to Addenbrooke’s to meet him there.
Tracy had done first aid courses in the past and could vaguely recalled the basics, but in that moment she knew she had to do all she could and just got stuck in. She kept losing count of how many chest compressions she’d done to how many breaths, but the call handler kept guiding her through. She remembers feeling quite dizzy after about 10 minutes, and feeling totally exhausted when she stood up after the paramedics took over.
When Jack-Charlie arrived at Addenbrooke’s he was admitted through A&E and taken straight to PICU – the paediatric intensive care unit.
After about an hour Tracy was allowed to go to the ward to see Jack-Charlie; he was hooked up to a ventilator, and she was told that the next 48 hours were critical. Later that day a cardiologist came to explain that Charlie had Long QT syndrome – a genetic mutation affecting his heart – but that it could be managed.
Tracy and Jack-Charlie’s grandad had both been speaking to him in the hospital and felt sure he could hear them, despite being told otherwise, but as Jack-Charlie’s grandad told him to “wake up” he did just that and opened his eyes. The doctors said that proved what a tough cookie he was – that he was able to wake up with that many drugs in his system. They reduced his drugs and a few hours after that they removed his ventilator, and Tracy heard the words she was so desperate to hear “hello mummy, hello daddy”. She knew he recognised her and hadn’t lost his ability to speak, so she was hopeful that there wasn’t going to be any lasting damage. Tests later that day found that thanks to Tracy’s quick thinking and CPR there was no damage to Jack-Charlie’s brain.
Once Jack-Charlie had recovered he was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital to be fitted with an internal defibrillator, which would go off automatically should his heart stop again. This will last for 6-8 years before the battery needs changing, and is monitored regularly.
Jack-Charlie is still playing football – something Tracy was initially told he wouldn’t be able to do. He just needs to wear a padded vest to protect his chest. Tracy is only now coming to realise just how important that initial CPR was, and is campaigning for defibrillators to be available more widely, and for more people to train in CPR.