When Jennifer Raphael looked up to see her husband "dead" at his computer table, she swung into action and saved his life.

The registered nurse tipped John, her husband of 43 years, out of his chair, phoned 111 and put it on speaker phone while she started CPR.

"I heard the computer mouse drop on the floor and I looked up and he was dead. His eyes were lolling back. His face was purple, blue, red. His heart had stopped. Boom. Gone."

As Jennifer was yelling instructions to emergency services to send an ambulance, her CPR training kicked in.

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Her efforts were even more remarkable given she performed CPR for a mammoth eight minutes while squatting, because a knee replacement meant she couldn't kneel.

Her actions on the night of Monday May 14 means John is now up and about and on the mend.

But she wasn't the only life saver that night. Off-duty firefighter Terry Robinson also played a vital part by being alerted to the scene thanks to a new first response phone app.

He took over CPR, ensuring the blood continued to flow around John's body, until St John paramedics arrived and used a defibrillator to shock his heart back into beating.

Jennifer Raphael saved her husband John's life by doing CPR after he had a heart attack. Photo / Stephen Parker.
Jennifer Raphael saved her husband John's life by doing CPR after he had a heart attack. Photo / Stephen Parker.

Nurses at Waikato Hospital have since told Jennifer health professionals in emergency situations can only perform CPR for two to four minutes before someone else needs to take over to ensure a good technique remains.

"It's hard yakka ... The first push I broke his ribs," Jennifer, who works as a regional health adviser, said.

When Robinson arrived to take over, the shock of the situation started to sink in.

"I was fine while I was doing it but then I stopped and stood back and was like 'oh my God, that's my husband'.

"Technically he was dead for a good 20 minutes. If he had not had the perfusion [flow of blood] going to the brain, it would have had a different outcome in terms of his mental state.

"They [hospital staff] asked me if I'd ever done CPR before on a person and I said 'only on dummies, so nothing much has changed'."

While the Raphaels are using humour to get through their ordeal, Jennifer admits it has been emotionally draining and the enormity of what happened kept flashing back.

"I think I am this tough bird but actually it's really affected me."

John, a retired Rotorua Boys' High School teacher, said words could not express how he felt about his wife's actions.

"If it wasn't for her, I would be dead."

He was in awe she managed to carry on and not give up, despite her own joint issues.

"It underlines the love we have for each other," he said welling up with tears.

He also doesn't mind having to go through the pain of recovering from two broken ribs.

"You can't have an omelette if you don't break the eggs. If she didn't break my ribs, she wouldn't have been doing it properly."

He said he was trying to think of something significant to express his thanks to his wife.

"But I know that hearing me say 'thank you' is probably gift enough.

"But gratitude doesn't come into it. When you sit and think about the enormity of what she has done, it could have easily gone the other way."

Meanwhile, John is not only recovering from the broken ribs, but also surgery at Waikato Hospital after they found he had a blocked left artery.

He is now trying to build up his heart strength again, with Jennifer being his watchful personal nurse.

Not long after his heart attack, John told his wife "I'm glad you thought I was worth it".

Jennifer has her own response to that.

"I told him 'don't cark it again cause I don't think I can repeat that'."

Jennifer and John's daughter, Jo Raphael, is a senior journalist for NZME.