Next Wednesday is Restart a Heart Day aimed at raising awareness about the importance of first aid training in the hope of improving Kiwis' chances of surviving cardiac arrest. In light of the significant day, the Weekend Herald shares a story of hope.
Paul Hancock doesn't remember the night his heart stopped beating for 21 minutes but he knows he's alive thanks to his youngest son.
"I've been told I was dead for quite some time, that I had seven electric shocks to bring my heart back and that I'm extremely fortunate," Hancock told the Herald on Sunday from his living room in East Auckland two weeks after that traumatic night.
The father of three had a cardiac arrest while he was sleeping at about 2am on Saturday August 17.
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His chance of survival was less than 15 per cent and with every minute which went by without CPR or defibrillation that rate dropped.
Against those dark odds, Hancock not only escaped death but survived without suffering any brain damage - an outcome the St John's ambulance crew says is "incredibly rare".
Hancock gives credit to his 21-year-old son Nik, who completed a first aid training course just a month before saving his dad's life.
"I just remember mum waking me up in a panic. She was crying, and I'd never seen her like that before. She just said something's wrong with dad and I knew it must have been serious.
"We rushed upstairs and I told her to call 111 straight away. I got to dad on the bed and he was making a really weird sound like a gasp. I checked for his pulse but couldn't find one."
Nik said he put his dad on the floor, opened up his airways so he could breath and started doing CPR.
Within 10 minutes, St John ambulance officers Catherine Khan and Geoff Martin arrived on the scene.
Khan said it was possible Hancock would have been dead by the time their ambulance crew arrived if it wasn't for Nik.
"The high-quality CPR Nik was doing prior to our arrival meant oxygen and blood were still being pushed around Paul's organs which kept his dad alive while he was in cardiac arrest."
Four Fire and Emergency New Zealand crew arrived on scene to help with CPR - rotating every two minutes.
Khan said having the fire crew there to do compressions gave her crew a massive advantage as it meant she and Martin could focus on other interventions such as injecting medicines and opening up his airways.
By that time, Nik's grandma, Hancock's mum, had arrived at the house.
"Grandma's a former nurse so she was able to explain everything that was happening.
"At one point one of the ambo crew came out and told us it wasn't looking good. I started to think dad wasn't coming back."
Hancock received seven shocks before the ambulance crew were able to get his heart to start beating again.
Khan said normally after six shocks you start to think you're losing them.
"It's not common for a person's heart to remain in a shockable rhythm for more than 20 minutes like Paul did.
"It's incredibly rare but awesome," Khan said.
The decision was made to put Hancock into a coma to relieve pressure on his brain and body.
He was taken in a critical condition to Auckland City Hospital, where it was initially thought his cardiac arrest was triggered by a heart attack. But as no blockages were found, doctors believe it may have been caused by a virus, which is rare.
Hancock was taken out of a coma the following morning and "miraculously" had no permanent brain or muscle damage. However, he couldn't remember a thing.
"The last thing I remembered was packing the car for golf the next morning."
He had a cardiac resynchronisation therapy device implanted in his chest and he spent 12 days in hospital recovering.
He didn't make it golf that day, nor did Nik make it to swimming coaching, but the family are eternally grateful to St John and FENZ for fighting to keep Hancock alive.
The crew reinforced how instrumental Nik was in stopping his dad from dying and stressed the importance of first aid training.
Nik said saving a life, let alone his old man's, was not something he ever thought he'd have to do.
"I think first aid training gets overlooked a lot of the time, especially among young people.
"If you have the opportunity to do [first aid training] then take it and focus when you are doing it because you never know when you are going to need it," Nik said.
About Restart a Heart Day:
• It's a day to raise awareness about the importance of first aid training with the hope of improving New Zealanders' chances of surviving cardiac arrest.
• About 1600 people die from a cardiac arrest in New Zealand each year.
• The chance of surviving a cardiac arrest is less than 15 per cent and every minute that goes by without CPR or defibrillation that rate drops.
• People over 18 who know how to perform CPR or use an AED can register with the GoodSAM app and be alerted to a cardiac arrest nearby.
About cardiac arrests:
• A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood around the body. The person will stop breathing and lose consciousness almost immediately.
• If you witness a cardiac arrest, call 111 immediately.
• For many people, a cardiac arrest comes without any warning signs. However, some people can experience chest pain, dizziness, palpitations, fainting and/or breathlessness.
• CPR is a combination of rescue breathing and chest compressions.
• A heart attack is not the same as a cardiac arrest. A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood around the body. A heart attack occurs when a coronary artery becomes blocked, preventing blood flow to part of the heart muscle. Sometimes a heart attack can cause a cardiac arrest.