Thirty-somethings Chad and Sarah are young and fit, they care about what they eat, work out at the gym and work hard. So when Chad took a few days off work earlier in the year feeling unwell, Sarah knew her husband was unusually off-colour.
"He's the sort who never takes time off, so I was surprised," she says.
The illness passed, life for the young couple and their 13-month old baby daughter Luka resumed, with Sarah at home enjoying motherhood and Chad at work. A week later on March 28 this year life changed forever.
"I was just starting dinner, the frying pan was on the hob, Chad had brought Luka in to say goodnight, they were in the living room, I saw Chad collapse backwards, I thought he was playing, then I noticed he wasn't breathing."
Sarah rushed to him, grabbing the phone as she ran, desperately dialled 111 and started CPR on the love of her life. Baby Luka started to scream and the smoke alarm went off because the hot pan was smoking.
"I couldn't hear what the person on 111 was saying because of all the noise so I told them I'd count out loud as I did the chest compressions and I'd pick up the phone again after one minute to hear whether I was going at the right speed."
The emergency services arrived within seven or eight minutes, but even with adrenalin and shocking Chad four or five times with the paddles he remained unresponsive.
"They talked about what to do because they couldn't get him back, he was clinically dead. I think because he was so young, with a young family, they decided to keep fighting and take him to the hospital."
The battle to keep Chad alive continued for another 40 minutes, and medical staff shocked him at least another four times, Sarah recalls.
"The staff suggested it was a good time to come and say goodbye. They thought they just couldn't win the battle. I took Luka in and as she was saying goodbye she slapped his face - he was shocked once more then opened his eyes and from then on things improved."
He was in a coma for another three days.
"Day four or five there was another incident," she says. "They had to shock him 40 odd times overnight. The heart goes into what they call VF; it's when the heart goes from a normal resting beat to beating very rapidly, the heart quivers so it's not pumping blood to the brain."
Chad was suffering from myocarditis brought on by a virus, inflammation of the heart muscles that can vary from having little effect to proving fatal, as happened to Green Party co-leader Rod Donald in 2005.
Chad spent nearly a month in hospital. This fit 35-year-old now sports animplantable cardioverter-defibrillator and a very different appreciation of life.
"I feel very, very lucky to be here," he says.
He has no memory of the two days before his collapse or 10 days after, a time when he also had his birthday.
"To celebrate, I bought Chad an artwork, it says 'Dream as if you'll live forever, live every day as your last' and a foot stool because I was determined I'd make him rest up a bit when he came home."
Seven months on, the Russell family rhythm of life has resumed, Chad is back at work, Luka is walking, Sarah is relishing being an at-home mum and the couple finally have the time to enjoy the home they worked so hard to build.
"We're pretty proud of the place," says Chad.
"It's certainly home," Sarah agrees.
"Initially we thought we'd be here just five years and then move on but we've already been here three and it's perfect, so unique, we love it."
The home has four bedrooms, two bathrooms, an open-plan living, kitchen and dining area and another separate living room, decking and fenced outdoor areas for entertaining and play space for young children.
Chad had bought the property in his bachelor days - there was a pair of flats on the site and when they married the couple looked at the option of renovating the house, but it proved too costly.
"We were going to subdivide but the section wasn't quite big enough so we then decided to build a family home. The street is a cul de sac, so perfect for raising a family and well-located, being close to shops."
They drove around suburbia photographing roofs, houses, fencing, anything that appealed, and created a wish list, which they presented to draughtsman Kevin Collins, of Design Network.
Chad's father, who is experienced in property development, project-managed the build and the house was completed within $10,000 of budget. For less than $300,000 they have achieved a 214-square metre home which includes a Hayley Brown Interiors-designed kitchen.
"It looks like a $30,000-plus kitchen, but cost only $14,000, it's so well designed," says Sarah. "What's so nice is everything is hidden so it gives a clean, minimalist look."
Building a home was a learning curve for this young couple. Sarah remembers being gobsmacked that they'd already spent $50,000 and only had a concrete pad to show for the outlay. Demolition of the old building, site clearing and preparation for the new build ate into their finances more than she had expected.
"We've the newest house in the street but the area is changing. There are many older homes but they are gradually being renovated, added to, with decking and extra rooms. There are lots of young kids in the street now and, of course, the end of the street backs on to the local golf course. You can even sometimes hear them playing golf; we're as close as that," Chad says.
Chad and Sarah have always been best mates, but Chad says his recent medical issues have made them even tighter. Sarah confides she did harbour some concerns.
"I worried whether Chad's personality might have changed but I think he's even better now. Today we live by a saying 'Challenges are opportunities in disguise'.
"That's how we approach every day."
In agreeing to have their very personal family story told, Chad, Sarah and Luka asked for one huge thank you to be given, in their words:
"We couldn't rate more highly the attention, support and amazing care that we were shown by the Wellington Free Ambulance paramedics and staff at Hutt Hospital that aided Chad."
- The Dominion Post
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