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‘He was not dying and that was that’ – Woman saved husband’s life by performing CPR for 30 minutes at home

A woman who saved her husband’s life by performing CPR on him non-stop for 30 minutes after he suffered cardiac arrest in bed has stressed how important it is for everybody to learn the technique.

Geraldine O’Reilly Bolger, a nurse at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, saved her husband Derek’s life last summer after he took ill at home in bed on the evening last summer in Stillorgan.

Now she is calling for more and more people to learn the skills, especially school children.

Geraldine was asleep in their Stillorgan home in south Dublin on the night of July 5 last year when she noticed some unusual breathing by Derek at around 12.40am.

Geraldine says: “I gave Derek a dig in the ribs and asked ‘Derek are you OK?’ I got no response, so I gave him a bigger dig and shouted ‘Derek are you OK?’ Still no response, so I sat up and turned on my bedside lamp, glanced at Derek, lifted my mobile and dialed 999. I said I need a cardiac ambulance please, my husband is having a cardiac arrest and gave them our address.

“When I had glanced at Derek, he was a purple black colour with dilated black pupils staring up and to the left. The medic on the phone asked me ‘is he on a hard surface?’.

“I said ‘no he is in the bed’. He said get him on the floor. At this stage I had walked around to Derek’s side of the bed. I felt for Derek’s pulse and he had a good pulse. So I got him by the ankles and yanked him onto the floor. His body hit the floor with a loud thud. He later developed a large bruise down the left side. His head bounced twice off the floor, I forgot to put a pillow down first. Derek remained unconscious with foaming at the side of the mouth. I said I’m starting CPR.”

The man on the end of the 999 call began to tell Geraldine how to perform CPR but she quickly informed him she was an Intensive Care Unit nurse and knew what to do.

 ”On my first thrust of compression I heard a crunch,” Geraldine said. “I knew I’d broken cartilage, but I thought that’s good I’m in the right place and doing it hard enough.”

Geraldine says that the sheer force of her CPR technique probably helped Derek to survive as he was ‘under’ for so long.

“It made sure that oxygen still made it to the brain. He was not dying and that was that,” she said.

The medic on the phone continued to encourage Geraldine and when the ambulance was nearby he instructed her to run downstairs, turn off the alarm, open the front door and turn on the lights before running back up the stairs to “get back on the chest”.

When the ambulance arrived they took over the job of trying to save Derek’s life and that is when Geraldine noticed there was “a river of sweat” running down her face.

After 20 minutes a doctor came down to the kitchen where Geraldine was.

 ”He told me they had shocked Derek nine times, given him adrenaline and other drugs and that they had ‘done everything’. It dawned on me then that they were stopping.

“So I pointed up the stairs and said ‘well get back up there and keep going, keep going, keep going.’ The doctor resumed work and about 15 minutes later he returned to say ‘he has an output’.

Derek was brought to Geraldine’s place of work, St Vincent’s, where he was placed in the ICU ward that she knew so well.

“This was the unit I had worked in for years, but this was the wrong face in the bed,” Geraldine said.

Geraldine’s husband was sedated and because he had been under cardiac arrest for so long there were concerns about the levels of oxygen starvation to his brain.

Meanwhile, he had first degree burns from the friction of prolonged CPR, as well as fractured ribs.

His chest was also cut and scraped from trying to get the hair off in order to get a clean contact for the defibrillator pads.

Geraldine then noticed that she too had an injury, friction burns on her knees from the prolonged CPR.

After contacting her two young sons who were both abroad last summer and telling them the news, Geraldine returned to hospital to monitor her husband as family and friends arrived to offer support.

On July 7, a nursing colleague burst in to the waiting room to tell Geraldine that her husband was awake and after he was taken off life support, Geraldine went in to see him.

“I said: ‘Derek you look fantastic.’ He smiled at me and asked ‘am I dead?’ I said ‘no you are not’. Then he looked around his arm for his watch and asked me ‘am I late for work?’ I said ‘no Derek you have today off. He said ‘I don’t know what happened to me’. I said ‘you were a bit sick last night, so I brought you into the hospital and you are absolutely fantastic now.

“‘I don’t remember anything’ he said. I said ‘well I remember everything’.”

After about a week in the Cardiac Care Unit Derek returned home and is now completely fine. Experts in the field have told Geraldine that anyone who is ‘under’ for more than 20 minutes usually has some serious issues caused by lack of oxygen to the brain. Derek was under in total for around an hour so Geraldine’s CPR technique was vital to both his survival and full recovery.

A consultant the couple met in September told Geraldine “you are a hero, only for you, we would not be having this meeting today” and Geraldine now believes more than ever that CPR at home is vital to save lives.

“It isn’t like you see in the movies on TV,” Geraldine says. “It is hard and it won’t bring them back in 30 seconds but it works and everyone should be given the chance to learn how to do it, starting in schools.”

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