A heavily pregnant woman was being taken by ambulance to hospital with a heart attack when the driver also suffered a cardiac arrest.
Eight months pregnant Kirstin Epiha, from Muriwai, West Auckland, went to Waitakere Hospital with severe chest pains on Easter Friday. Doctors realised the married mum-of-two was having a heart attack and transferred her 18km to Auckland City Hospital.
Epiha, 41, said she passed out towards the end of the journey. When she woke at hospital, she was told heroic St John driver Peter Boyce had been admitted to the same ward after he, too, suffered a heart attack but manfully kept driving.
"I was a bit out of it", said Epiha, "but I was aware the lights and siren were on and he was travelling pretty fast.
"When I came round at Auckland Hospital I was told the driver had arrived at A & E looking very grey-faced and doctors recognised he was also having a heart attack. He was taken into theatre straight after me.
"For the guy to keep driving in that condition and get me and my unborn baby there safely was incredible. He ended up in a room two doors down on the ward and I visited him to say a big 'thank you'.
"My husband gave him one of our cows for his freezer to feed his family. We are very grateful and would like to stay in touch with him."
Epiha was diagnosed with a rare heart condition called spontaneous coronary artery dissection — sometimes referred to as SCAD — in which a tear forms in one of the blood vessels in the heart. It can slow or block blood flow, causing a heart attack, abnormalities in heart rhythm and even sudden death.
Boyce, from Blockhouse Bay, said he was admitted to hospital with heart problems after transporting Epiha — but stressed a clinical management team was in the ambulance to look after the patient.
Boyce has been an ambulance driver for eight years and had no history or diagnosis of a heart condition before this incident.
He played down his part in delivering the pregnant mum safely to hospital.
"I don't want to talk up my role," he told the Herald on Sunday. "I was doing my job, that's what we do."
Boyce has been resting at home after surgery.
The story had a happy ending when Epiha gave birth to a boy named Arepa on Friday at Auckland City Hospital where she is recuperating from the birth and the heart scare.