'Dead' squash player revived after 70 minutes

2014-06-13 10:02
Paramedic Carla Potgieter (Jonathan Burton, The Witness)

Paramedic Carla Potgieter (Jonathan Burton, The Witness)

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Paramedics in service

2013-06-05 11:00

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Rowan Philp & Thamsanqa Magubane, The Witness

Pietermaritzburg - A man who was clinically dead for 70 minutes has been brought back to life on a KZN squash court - and was joking with the paramedic who saved him just a day later.

Having collapsed with a heart attack in Hilton on Tuesday night - and registered no pulse or breathing for over an hour - Jeremy Cockburn’s recovery was on Thursday described as “an absolute miracle” by friends and some medics.

The 54-year-old Richmond businessman was shocked with defibrillator paddles 11 times during the marathon resuscitation - so many that the paramedic later told him, “I’m sorry I had to hurt you”.

'We are not going to give up'

Although medical professionals are not generally expected to continue with CPR for more than 30 minutes, paramedic Carla Potgieter yelled this line at the “dead” patient after an hour with no pulse, “We are not going to give up, ballie - you better come right!”

Potgieter, who also administered adrenaline and other key drugs, said, “In my whole career, I have never had a resuss patient talk to me a day later - let alone someone down for over an hour. He could not remember anything, but his mind was sharp otherwise; we laughed. Two of my crew had never seen a successful resuss at all - they are totally amped.”

But the 29-year-old ER24 advanced life support paramedic said the quick actions of Cockburn’s team-mates and opponents had been equally critical in his stunning revival.

Cockburn, a father of two who recently returned from a life in New Zealand, collapsed during a league match between Hilton and Richmond squash clubs.

He was “under” for so long that two emergency responders said they were keen to ask “where he went”, while one friend at the scene, Leuis Jardim, told him, “That bright light you’re seeing is not heaven, buddy - it’s the squash court lights”.

Jardim, the rival team captain, said, “He was in the process of serving when he fell, but his opponent told me he had been moving sluggishly for a few minutes before. His team-mate phoned his brother, who is a medic; [the team-mate] stripped off his jacket and rushed down and starting doing compressions on his chest. The guys were really sweating by the time the paramedics arrived.”

'An absolute miracle'

Jardim’s wife, Tasha, dialled the speed-dial digit for the community emergency network, SA CAN.

She said, “I was on my knees praying, but if you could have seen his colour - a deep purple - you would never believe it was possible this man could be brought back. SA CAN were fantastic; they found the nearest person with the right skills pretty fast.”

SA CAN founder Brian Jones said, “This was incredibly rare; a miracle. But what if someone like Carla had not been in the area? We are critically short of advanced life support skills in KZN.”

Cockburn’s brother, Tony, on Thursday told The Witness that Jeremy was recovering at Grey’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, but was still struggling with short-term memory loss and a lack of feeling in his legs.

“We’re not out of the woods yet. But after what I heard on Tuesday night, I didn’t think I’d have a brother on Wednesday morning. It’s quite amazing how his mates and the paramedics wouldn’t give up,” he said.

In a similar revival in the UK, a 28-year-old British man, David Binks, was brought back after 70 minutes in 2012, after receiving 16 defibrillator shocks from a dedicated paramedic. However, longer revivals have been recorded - especially involving patients in freezing conditions.

'Medicine at its best'

Dr Tim Hardcastle, head of UKZN’s trauma surgery training unit, said only six out of 100 patients were revived after 30 minutes of CPR, and that the odds dropped significantly after 60 minutes.

However, he said children and patients identified to have a “shockable [heart] rhythm” had a higher chance of revival.

“What makes this case unique was that it happened outside of a big city,” he said.

Potgieter said she had made it to Hilton from Maritzburg “seven minutes after SA CAN contacted our call centre”.

She said her ECG machine had revealed Cockburn’s heart going through four different rhythms in response to the treatment, and that he had shown early signs of life before sliding into the gravest “flatline” state close to the hour mark.

“He was literally dead - but I could see that he was trying to fight, so we just decided we were not going to give up,” she said.

“Plus, he had been playing squash so obviously he was in decent shape, and there had been early intervention - an off-duty medic who was there before us did great work with compressions.”

One of Cockburn’s attending doctors, Aslaam Mohamed, said the man had arrived at hospital with a stuttering heart and low blood pressure.

“We also called in a cardiologist who attended to him - fortunately there were no broken ribs or blockages,” he said. “The paramedics did very well, what they did there was medicine at its best.”

- Health24: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  health  |  good news
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