Expert help on hand after heart attack

03:34, Aug 04 2012
Rick Rawson
SURVIVOR: Rick Rawson (R) with two of the people who helped save his life, his son Kimble Rawson and St John Intensive Care Paramedic Jon Leach.

Rick Rawson says he's not a believer, but the circumstances around his "death" and how he is alive today bring a quiet tear to his eye.

He doesn't like to think about what might have been if even one link in a miraculous chain of events was missing.

Just over two weeks ago, Rawson suffered a serious heart attack and collapsed outside St Stephen's Church in Nelson.

As he lay on the strip of grass beneath the church's large wooden cross, his son Kimble Rawson and friends fought to save his life.

At that moment, St John Ambulance paramedic Jon Leach drove past on his way home. Curious about the crowd, he did a U-turn, followed soon afterwards by an anaesthetist who never normally goes that way.

"People tell him he got close to the pearly gates but St Peter told him to p... off," Kimble says of the night his frantic efforts at CPR helped to save his father's life.


Rick Rawson, 69, has been a runner for nearly 40 years, joining organised social runs held by Athletics Nelson and Waimea Harriers. In his heyday, he was running anything up to 80 to 100 kilometres a week.

He was fitted with a pacemaker in 1991 to assist a small heart defect detected during a medical examination when he applied for his taxi driver's licence. Lately, he's been doing more cycling to stay fit.

On July 18, he joined a group that included Kimble on a regular Wednesday night social run from the Ocean Lodge in Tahunanui. The course finished five kilometres later, outside St Stephen's.

Rawson has no memory of anything after getting his hair cut that morning, but the story goes that he was standing in the queue at the end of the race, waiting to sign in. Seconds after he stopped, so did his heart.

Kimble, who had finished the run earlier and was already relaxing at the bar, was at his father's side within seconds of being told he had collapsed.

"I went so fast I didn't even look to check if there were any cars. I just sprinted across the road."

He found his father slumped on the ground, with two people checking to see if he was breathing.

The Goldpine manager, whose workplace first aid training included learning CPR, immediately swung into action.

"I pretty much assessed the situation - he was on his side and didn't have a pulse, and I couldn't get his mouth open. I just threw him on his back and started pumping his chest."

Leach then drove past.

"I saw a crowd outside the church and thought that was weird," he said. "I did a U-turn, and it was then I heard the job called on the radio."

Leach, who was driving a work car and had all the "tools" with him, grabbed a defibrillator and administered the first of three electric shocks.

Anaesthetist registrar James Tucker, who was also on his way home and stopped to help, put in an airway. An ambulance arrived soon afterwards.

 Leach said it was the third shock that brought Mr Rawson back to life.

"He was dead," he said when asked how ill Mr Rawson was.

"We can save dead people, but without early CPR and defibrillation, the recovery drops exponentially every minute."

St John says survival from cardiac arrest depends on a number of factors prior to an ambulance arriving, including a bystander performing CPR and the early use of a defibrillator. This increases the chance of a person surviving a cardiac arrest from about 7 to 30 per cent.

"There were people there with knowledge and who were doing CPR well. He got lucky," Leach said.

Rawson was taken by ambulance to Nelson Hospital's emergency department.

His wife Sue, who had gone to play bridge as a break from planning the couple's 50th wedding anniversary, had been taken immediately to where her husband lay in Tahunanui.

Sue Rawson arrived to see electric shocks being administered to her husband's heart.

Rawson arrived at hospital in a critical condition, and was placed in intensive care once he was stabilised. He was "frozen down" over the next 24 hours. His son and wife never left his side.

"We sat for 50 hours waiting," Mrs Rawson said. Kimble did not sleep from that Wednesday night until late on Friday night.

"We were told he might not come through, or that he would be brain-damaged."

Leach said Nelson Hospital, as a secondary hospital, was lucky to have such a "fantastic" cardiology team.

"Without all the pieces of the puzzle coming into line, whatever we do is null and void."

Rawson was flown to Christchurch for surgery on Thursday last week. He now has a new pacemaker with a defibrillator, and four stents in the arteries of his heart.

"I'm very lucky, and unfortunately I can't tell you about any near-death experience. I don't know what happened - it all seems surreal."

He is now managing some light daily exercise, and said he could not say enough about the staff at Nelson and Christchurch hospitals.

Kimble is deeply grateful to all the people who helped, including his friends and Leach. "You couldn't have asked for a better person to turn up."

The Nelson Mail