On this day in 2013 – the 12th of May - Sean Doyle woke up from an induced coma to be told he’d had a heart attack/cardiac arrest at Huddersfield parkrun. His odds of survival had been 6%.
Since that fateful day five years ago Sean has run 7,000 miles, including 150 parkruns, and volunteered to do Pre Event Setup more than 100 times. This is his remarkable story.
Today I’d like to tell you about my journey and pay tribute to the people who saved my life and supported my recovery.
I don’t remember much about the morning of 11 May 2013. I recall saying goodbye to my son and then driving to the park – but that’s about it. Then I woke up the following day. A blocked artery had caused a heart attack that led to a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) – which happened twice in the same incident. So I had two SCAs. Only over the next few days did I find out how lucky I was.
Because I had arrested prior to parkrun starting , an off-duty nurse and fellow parkrunner Dinah Coogan performed CPR and then Dr Emma Spencer took over before the paramedic (Kate Young) performed six defibs on my first SCA , then a further three more at the local hospital on my second SCA, plus two hours of Lucas two chest compression system (which was on loan to the hospital – they had got it the day before my admission and I was the first person on it). I was stented as a single blocked artery then discharged on the Thursday. My family suffered the worst through all of this as they had dealt with me been ‘dead’. Personally, I’m in tears if I ever discuss my story – five years later the emotions are still raw.
Before my incident I was a 40-60 mile per week runner with a healthy weight. I travelled a lot around the world on business – in fact day after my fourth marathon which was four weeks before, in which I ran in 3 hours 29 minutes, I was on the plane to USA.
My cardiologist told me not to give up my running – he was a runner too and former member of my club the Holmfirth Harriers – but my recovery was in stark contrast to my previous life as a runner. It involved two local rehab sessions per week for six weeks – each was about two hours and included education on diet. The cardiac recovery was really low tempo and not built for the likes of me who from day one pushed the limits and questioned when would we use the treadmills! I eventually got my wish but only to walk on them. The stress test doctor got bored I was on so long but after 15 minutes of zapping up the speed slope as quick as they could I got bored too! My return to running was granted and I was discharged.
Within six weeks I was back at work and within three months did my first 10k after my rehab had finished. My ECG, which had initial scaring, showed that the damage had more or less cleared up. During my return to running I walked at parkrun, getting my personal worst time ever!
Since then I have gone onto run more than 7,000 miles including 150 parkruns, and I’ve also set my fastest ever parkrun time of 20:14. I regularly set up the Huddersfield course, and I always have a routine of warm up lap, set up, coffee and then run plus two extra laps to turn it into 11k. I continue to run 30-40 miles per week every week with 2 -3 rest days. I am no longer allowed to run marathons or half marathons as this could risk longer term damage.
I received incredible support from the parkrun community in Huddersfield. They raised money for a defibrillator whilst I was in hospital and they came up with flowers and comforted my wife. We ran together on my first parkrun back and it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it as I type this. I would like to say a special thank you to Simon Brass, Simon Edwards, Paul Senior and Mark Nicolson.
I would like to pay tribute to the first responders and medical staff that day and I am glad to have met several of them. Dr Emma Spencer, Nurse Dinah Coogan, Kate Young, Neil Hopkinson, Justine Stamp and my friend Simon Edwards who went in the ambulance as I battled for life. There are many others I may not have met. I remember Kate Brown though, the nurse who brought me buttery toast and coffee, as she had purple hair!
Thanks to Lars Andrews I have become an ambassador for Cardiac Athletes, a global support group that has introduced me to other runners with cardiac issues, and I also represented the UK in 2017 as a Medtronic Global Champion for overcoming my illness. I have raised money through running for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance an I have been actively engaged in saving our A&E in Huddersfield from closure. I organised a few runs to highlight the campaign, which is my way of saying thank you to them for saving me. Through this work and the publicity, I have found other members of my ‘saviour team’ – the unsung heroes who kept me alive but I knew nothing about, such as Neil Hopkinson and Justine Stamp.
Through groups such as Cardiac Athletes, more and more people like me have come together to show that you can carry on with running after cardiac events and not retire. Yes you must listen to your body, your family and your doctor, and be motivated, but when you have been reborn why waste the opportunity? I have also met many other athletes and attended UK meet-ups at parkruns. Gradually my own family have accepted that running is good for me too. Thanks also to my fellow SCA survivor Roland Malkin for all his support. And last but not least my darling wife Helen Doyle who has been a rock.
I return to parkrun every Saturday. My first target was 50, then 100, where parkrun Founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE came up to run with me. My wife has had a go doing the Zero to 5k Hero course and I have helped a few folks on that course along the way. It has become a bit of an institution now that it no longer clashes with kids junior football or karate classes as it used to!
Today marks the fifth anniversary of my Sudden Cardiac Arrest at Huddersfield parkrun. My fifth anniversary of being saved. If I had not been at parkrun that day with those heroes who responded so quickly I would surely be dead. My motto since then has been to treat each and every day as though it’s your last, and to never give up on your life or your dreams.
Happy running everyone, from parkrunner A181665.
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