Following two heart attacks and a heart bypass in her early forties, parkrunner Kirsty Drummond was determined to help more communities acquire Public Access Defibrillators. Little did she know that she would end up using one to help save someone’s life at St Andrews parkrun.
In September 2012 I started at St Andrews parkrun having seen an article in a local newspaper. I was 40 and overweight, but otherwise healthy, and I wanted to lose weight and get fitter. I’d done things including curling and Taekwondo in the past and was doing Zumba as well as dog walking.
In late November I began to feel a roughness in my throat when I was doing parkrun but as it was cold and I felt as though I was breathing my last I just thought it was due to breathing in cold air too quickly. A couple of weeks later though I just didn’t feel right, stopped after six minutes, got back into the car and sobbed as I drove home.
I arranged a doctor’s appointment at the end of that week but on the Thursday I experienced chest pain which I would call heartburn and my left arm felt so heavy I had to hold it. I contacted NHS24 who made the decision to call an ambulance. The policy in NHS Fife is that first time chest pain is an automatic hospital visit – a policy that might just have saved my life. I was poked and prodded in A&E and told I had to stay in hospital overnight to get more blood but to make arrangements to go home in the morning – so they weren’t worried.
Later, I was visited by another doctor who asked my story and asked what I thought it was. I said I thought it was something to do with my breathing and expected to be referred to an asthma clinic. I was hit by a sledgehammer when told I had angina and had had a heart attack. The doctors and nurses (even now) are stunned as my cholesterol and blood sugar were low, blood pressure perfect, ate a good diet, drank little, didn’t smoke, had always been active and had no family history.
Following an angiogram they identified one blocked artery and fitted a bare metal stent. After going home I followed the programme in the Heart Manual, published by the NHS, and I pushed to join the Cardiac Rehab programme to give me the confidence to get back into parkrun and Zumba. The Heart Manual encourages you to get out walking and exercising and to gradually build up. The rehab programme is all about getting non-exercisers into exercise and increasing the confidence of those who were returning to exercise but might be worried.
“I remember the first time I ran (jog/walked) parkrun after that – I cried as soon as I crossed the finish line. It was very emotional but I had fantastic support.”
I came through fairly unscathed physically and mentally following my heart attack and got back into life. Unfortunately, four months later it all happened again. This time I was away for the weekend with friends and that day been out on a long walk with the dog. Late in the evening the same heartburn type pain reappeared and I was back in hospital.
Following the next angiogram they discovered that the stent had re-stenosed (re-blocked) and they inserted a drug-eluting stent inside the existing stent. A drug-eluting stent is designed so that the drug coating helps prevent re-stenosis. I was told at this point that if it happened again I would need a heart bypass. Mentally, this heart attack was a lot more challenging. How could I, at 40, need a heart bypass? However, I got back into the Heart Manual and cardiac rehab programmes and of course, parkrun.
There’s a one in five chance of a bare metal stent re-stenosing and a one in 20 chance with a drug-eluting stent – well, it all happened to me and two and a half months later the symptoms crept back and I was told that I was facing a third, potentially fatal, heart attack. With the symptoms I was experiencing and the real restriction on my life by this stage mentally it was “Bring it on!” If this was what was going to give me my life back – bring it on. On 13 August 2013, days after my 41st birthday, I underwent a heart bypass.
I returned as soon as I could to parkrun – walking, jog/walking and gradually building up the running until exactly one year later, on my 50th parkrun, with numerous ‘doctors’ and ‘nurses’ (including my real cardiac nurse) I ran the full 5k for the first time in my life. It was one of the most amazing experiences ever, so emotional and so proud – and so proud of parkrun and its amazing community.
In 2014 at a British Heart Foundation Supporters Conference I bumped into Gillian Duncan, the Chair of East Neuk First Responders. They provide a first responder service in their area but had expanded to help put Public Access Defibrillators into local communities. I had seen an article on this in the local press so was delighted to meet Gillian.
With Gillian’s guidance I then began fundraising to install a defibrillator in my village of Ladybank. The community really took it to their hearts and we installed two. Gillian then asked me to help neighbouring villages do likewise and for me to act as the co-ordinator for the Howe of Fife – we call ourselves Howe Shocking! There are now more than 15 PADs in our area. Operation Heartstart cover the St Andrews area and ENFR the East Neuk so we are well served in this area we just need people to be willing to use them. As such we offer awareness training to the public and local groups. I had always been a first aider but became an instructor for CPR and defibrillators. In 2015 Operation Heartstart installed a defibrillator at Craigtoun park and on one (very rainy) parkrun Saturday I provided a CPR and defibrillator awareness session – I think the fact we had a canopy and it was teeming down encouraged people to come in and have a go!
On 26 May 2018 I had just completed my second circuit at parkrun and I noticed a couple of folk at the defibrillator cabinet trying to get it open. They got it open then there seemed to be confusion for a few seconds as to where the incident was. I followed them and noticed the casualty beside the cafe with people already beginning to perform CPR. I went over and asked if they needed somebody who knew how to use the defibrillator – yes!
I had to detach myself from the dog – thank you to the chap who took her and even gave her water so that I could help. Lynne Park (a nurse who was taking part in the run) was performing chest compressions and another parkrunner who was a doctor was giving rescue breaths – I got the defib switched on and attached the sticky pads, and, despite teaching the public how to use defibrillators for years now, I faffed! Too much panic but Lynne who is a nurse kept telling me to keep calm. After one shock and a few rounds of CPR there were definite signs of recovery and we put the casualty into the recovery position.
Between Adrian, the run director who was on the phone to the ambulance service, the chest compressions, doing breaths and various parkrunners and all the team at Craigtoun Park it was a superb team effort with huge reward that the casualty recovered. As soon as the ambulance arrived I joined the Tail Walker to complete the final circuit and finish parkrun – a good way to come back to earth. Having taught people how to use defibs for four years and done first aid training for 20+ years it was my first time at using a defib for real. With the team around me it was the best possible introduction I could get.
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