Barbara Wheto used to hate CPR training. But the Rotorua woman has since used the life-saving response to help save a relative.
The former St John volunteer has shared the fearful moment she found her loved one unresponsive and in cardiac arrest ahead of World Restart a Heart Day on October 16.
Wheto said one of her station managers was "extremely pedantic" about CPR training.
"I used to hate it. I used to ask her why we kept doing it. She wanted us to be able to respond by instinct that would kick in straight away."
The morning after a 21st birthday celebration in April, Wheto's extensive training kicked in when one of her family members ran into the kitchen.
"They told me: 'There's something wrong with ... Come now.'"
Wheto's relative, who was in peak health, had been staying in the unit next door with her partner.
"I went over straight away, left breakfast cooking. When I walked into the room, her arm was sticking out of the blanket and I could see her hands. Her nails and her fingers were blue."
When Wheto saw her greying face and realised her relative was not breathing, the fear set in.
"I knew she was in a very, very dire situation."
Wheto began performing CPR and ordered her family to call 111.
"[I felt] fear, absolute fear but you have to override that fear and focus everything you have on what you're doing. It doesn't matter how scared you are. You have to do what you have to do."
To this day, Wheto does not know who the 111 operator was but she remains extremely grateful to him.
"He stayed on the phone the entire time and all he did was count one to four."
Wheto said the operator's voice helped her to focus on what she was doing as her family cried and panicked around her. She continued performing CPR as two ambulances arrived on the scene.
"I said I wasn't going to stop until they were ready to take over."
Wheto was able to tell paramedics that her heart was not beating on its own.
A helicopter was called to take the patient to Waikato Hospital.
"Toni, the paramedic from the helicopter, was very clear that there were no guarantees [she would make it]."
It was not until the helicopter left the nearby rugby field that Wheto allowed herself to break down.
"I stood in front of the house and cried. Breakfast was burnt ... We had to pack everyone up and head to the hospital."
Medical staff estimated she had been without oxygen for 47 minutes and was in danger of brain damage.
Her uphill battle continued in hospital, where she stayed for two weeks and underwent three surgeries.
"Nothing was going her way," Wheto said.
"They had her on absolutely everything imaginable and it didn't look good.
"The first night [hospital staff] said we needed to get family there because they didn't think she was going to survive."
Then in the middle of the night, she woke up.
"She nearly gave me heart failure."
Soon, Wheto's relative was able to prove that she had not sustained brain damage by recognising members of her family and communicating with her deaf mother in sign language.
"Her survival was a miracle."
It was later discovered th young woman had a rare condition called myocarditis - an inflammation of the heart muscle.
Wheto wanted to thank all the staff from Kawerau Ambulance, New Zealand Fire and Emergency and the rescue helicopter for what they did that day.
"They did everything they could for [her]."
St John Paramedic David Porter was one of the paramedics who came to the woman's aid in April.
"It's brilliant to know the patient is now well and made a full recovery. This is why we do what we do, to help people."
Porter said the patient was one of the youngest cardiac arrest patients he'd treated.
"It really highlights how cardiac arrest can happen to anyone at any age."
Porter said learning CPR can be the difference between life and death.
"Barbara and the other family members did so well at acting quickly, starting CPR and calling 111."
Wheto, now a student of Te Reo Māori at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, has used her CPR training on eight occasions. None of these cardiac arrest incidents happened while she was on duty.
"Cardiac arrests can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere," she said.
Wheto has rushed to the aid of patients in the Rotorua Courthouse, a Te Puke supermarket car park and at a sports event.
"When people try to thank me I tell them to do a CPR course."