When Jennifer Raphael looked up to see her husband collapsed at his computer table, her training kicked in and she gave him CPR for eight long minutes.

The registered nurse would later be told at Waikato Hospital that health professionals in emergency situations could only perform CPR for two to four minutes before someone else had to take over to keep up a good technique.

The Rotorua woman, who works in a regional health adviser role, has never had to perform CPR on the job and the shock of a major medical event happening to someone she loved didn't hit her until St John arrived to take over.

Raphael was at home on May 14 when she heard husband John's computer mouse drop to the floor.

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"I looked up and he was dead," she said.

"His eyes were lolling back. His face was purple, blue, red. His heart had stopped. Boom. Gone."

She tipped him out of his chair, called 111 and put the phone on speaker. As she yelled instructions to emergency services for an ambulance, she began CPR.

"It's hard yakka ... The first push I broke his ribs," she said.

It was particularly difficult as Raphael had to squat because a knee replacement meant she couldn't kneel. But she kept going until off-duty firefighter Terry Robinson arrived at the house, having been alerted thanks to a new first response phone app.

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

He took over CPR until St John paramedics arrived and used a defibrillator to shock his heart back into beating.

"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'," Raphael said.

"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'."

The experience had been emotionally draining, she said.

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

John, a retired Rotorua Boys' High School teacher, had suffered a heart attack and is now recovering from the broken ribs, and surgery after doctors found he had a blocked left artery.

He 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 kept up the CPR and did not give up, despite her own joint issues.

"It underlines the love we have for each other."