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Teenage Cardiac Arrest Survivor Thanks Life-savers

23 June 2015

An inspirational 15-year-old who suffered a cardiac arrest at school has finished his GCSEs - just weeks after school staff saved his life.

When Alex Cowes collapsed during a PE lesson at Fulford School in York, staff recognised the seriousness of his condition and immediately started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and used an on-site defibrillator to bring him back to life.

Thanks to their actions, Alex has since returned to school and completed 14 GCSE exams, the first of which he sat just four days after having a cardioverter defibrillator implanted in his chest to continuously monitor his heartbeat.

Alex, a keen footballer and athlete with no previous health problems, was one of almost 11,000 schoolchildren across Yorkshire who learned CPR as part of a record-breaking training event by Yorkshire Ambulance Service on Restart a Heart Day in October 2014.

Little did he realise that he would reap the ultimate benefit of people taking the time to learn this vital life-saving skill.

Alex, who lives in Escrick, near York, said: “I had no idea how to do CPR before Restart a Heart Day last year but now this has happened to me, I know how important it is and everyone should be made aware of the benefits.

“I am so thankful to the staff at the school for acting as quickly as they did; what they did saved my life - they were brilliant!”

The incident happened on 30 April 2015 while Alex was taking part in an indoor cricket lesson.

“I felt totally normal during PE; we were doing short bursts of running,” recalled Alex. “When I stopped I felt really dizzy and collapsed and that’s all I remember.”

His PE teacher Kat Fairbairn immediately raised the alarm and Shona Jagger, Head of Girls’ PE, and Erica Melsom, the school’s Medical Officer, started CPR. Sue Igoe, First Aider and member of the Administration Team, used the defibrillator to shock his heart into a regular rhythm. Remarkably, Alex was sitting up and talking when York-based Paramedic Terry Rawcliffe and Emergency Care Assistant George Benjamin arrived to take him to York Hospital.

Dan Bodey, Deputy Headteacher at Fulford School, said: “It was a real team effort - the staff were incredible. I was also called to the scene and I was privileged to see the stunning moment Alex came back to life. It was a really emotional process and we are all just thankful that it was a good outcome.”
Cardiologists believe Alex may suffer from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the same condition as former Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba, who coincidentally visited Fulford School on Restart a Heart Day last year. Further tests are now being carried out to determine whether it is genetic. 
Alex’s parents Nick and Sue Cowes, who also have two other children, Harrison, 11, and Simmone, 18, are determined to raise the profile of the importance of learning CPR and having defibrillators in the community.

Nick said: “When we look back at what has happened over the last few weeks, we feel total shock but also total gratitude. How do you thank someone for saving your son’s life? It goes way beyond any gifts or words; they acted so professionally that day, we can’t thank them enough.

“We feel so blessed that Fulford School has been so proactive in terms of having an on-site defibrillator, with plans for two more, as well as enabling 1,050 pupils to have CPR training as part of Yorkshire Ambulance Service’s Restart a Heart Day last year. Everyone should know CPR and if it could be put on the national school curriculum, together with defibrillator awareness, that would be a massive step in the right direction.”

Yorkshire Ambulance Service will be repeating the success of Restart a Heart Day on Friday 16 October 2015 when 97 schools and over 20,000 pupils will be taught CPR, including 250 Year 7 pupils at Fulford School. This year’s event is set to be the world’s biggest mass CPR training day.

Jason Carlyon, Clinical Development Manager with Yorkshire Ambulance Service and event organiser, said: “Alex’s case highlights why it is so important that we organise mass CPR training events like Restart a Heart Day. When we held the first event last year, we always said if it saved one life, it would be worthwhile but we never expected it to be one of the pupils who participated.

“The incident highlights the importance of the Chain of Survival, including early recognition, calling 999, bystander CPR and early defibrillation. The speedy response of the school staff played a vital role in his survival before the arrival of our staff and we are delighted that Alex has made a good recovery and was able to complete his GCSEs.”

Produced By: Corporate Communications Department