Simon Stimpson had a cardiac arrest at Linford Wood parkrun during his 50th event in June and was revived by quick thinking parkrunners around him. Seven weeks later he returned as Tail Walker to complete his milestone, and was once again Tail Walking today alongside local Olympic gold medallist and #teamparkrun ambassador Greg Rutherford.
In this moving account of his ordeal, Simon pays tribute to the people who saved his life that day and explains how parkrun is playing a significant role in his rehabilitation.
Back in 2007 I weighed more than 20 stone. Over the next six years I lost eight stone and then decided to give running a go. After graduating from the beginners’ group of MK Lakeside Runners in Milton Keynes I discovered parkrun, seeing it as a good opportunity for a regular 5k in a fun and friendly environment where it was just me against the clock and I could just run as fast or as slow as I wanted to.
With a combination of my shift work, and Saturday club runs training for longer distances, my first 49 parkruns (and a few volunteering stints) took me five years to complete and each had passed without incident. 9 June 2018 was the day of my 50th and I remember feeling pretty good and laughing and joking with some clubmates and other friends who had turned up to celebrate with me.
The run started and I quickly settled into a pace, running and chatting away. About 4k into the run I started to feel really faint so I decided to stop to take a few deep breaths, let the feeling pass, and then just jog to the finish. The next thing I remember is waking up surrounded by ambulance staff and various other people. Apparently I did ask if anybody had paused my watch!
Fortunately for me, I had chosen the day parkrun was celebrating 70 years of the NHS to have a cardiac arrest. So when I collapsed I was given immediate care by trained professionals as there were nurses and a doctor running close behind me. Many other parkrunners were involved in my rescue too, each being given a job to do and they all carried them out brilliantly. I was given CPR and the parkrun defibrillator was used, and on the second application I started to recover. The doctor who had taken charge of the scene then used his own defibrillator to monitor me. I was transferred to a waiting ambulance and from there was taken to the Thames Valley Air Ambulance to be flown to the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford where I spent the next 10 nights.
The initial diagnosis was that I had had a cardiac Arrythmia leading to a cardiac arrest, due to a narrowing of one of the arteries and a blockage on the other artery on the left side of my heart. These symptoms caused a ventricular fibrillation, which means disorganised electrical activity within the heart causing it to beat too fast. The blockage in the artery was caused by a heart attack a short while ago (within the last two years) that I knew absolutely nothing about. Apparently this is not uncommon!
My treatment consisted of the fitting of a stent in my narrowed artery and the placement of an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) in my chest just below the left collarbone. This device performs cardioversion, defibrillation and pacing of my heart too.
When I was first discharged from hospital I was very tired and needed lots of rest as my body had taken a bit of a pounding, but I am making slow and steady progress and I am getting stronger all the time. I am able to do a lot more now but still have to make sure I get plenty of rest and remind myself not to overdo things. Recovery from my episode is around 4-6 months.
I am not allowed to run for three months, but I am allowed to walk briskly each day. I started at 30 minutes a day and each week this increases by five minutes so I am well over the hour now. I was bought a fitness tracker for my birthday recently, which family and friends from my running club contributed to, so I am now able to keep a check on my heart rate whilst I’m active. Being active and being outdoors in the fresh air is encouraged by the cardiac rehab team as very beneficial to my recovery. In September I have my first three monthly appointment with the consultant and after that I’m hoping to be allowed back running.
I returned to parkrun within three weeks of my collapse, sitting down whilst volunteering as Barcode Scanner at Sixfields Upton parkrun as it was a good friend’s birthday parkrun and I wanted to be involved one way or another! Four weeks later I attempted my 50th parkrun for a second time, as Tail Walker at Linford Wood parkrun. It felt amazing to be back amongst lots of friends again, some having made special trips just to be there. It was also fantastic to meet some of the people involved in my rescue seven weeks before and to be able to thank them personally for all they did. I was joined by around 20 people for my Tail Walk and at the finish I was welcomed home by family, clubmates, friends and a number of fellow parkrunners all cheering and clapping. Finally, after seven weeks and 70 minutes on the day, my 50th parkrun was completed – it was really emotional. All in all it was a fantastic day and one that will live long in the memory.
It means an awful lot to be able to be back at parkrun again. Whilst all volunteer roles are important and fulfilling, Tail Walking is especially important to me as it keeps me involved as I am currently unable to run. It gets me out for my Saturday walk and I get to meet up with my running friends and fellow parkrunners. Thanks go to the people who come out of their way to pick me up and drop me home again afterwards as I am also unable to drive for six months due to my condition. Assuming I stay healthy and get my licence back, I’m going to say very publicly here that one day I would like to be part of the core team at Linford Wood parkrun – if they’ll have me!
In the days and weeks following my episode, my partner Helen and I were completely overwhelmed by the messages of support and offers of help from friends, running club mates and the many, many people of the wonderful parkrun community from all over the country. We thank you all for taking the time to think of us.
My biggest thanks go to the dedicated people of the NHS who went into autopilot during the event, forgetting about their own parkruns to give me the best possible chance of survival following my collapse. Without them I would probably not be here today to be able to tell my story. My incident could have happened any time, anywhere, and I know how very fortunate I was that it happened where it did to be able to receive the best possible care at the earliest opportunity. To these people, the Air Ambulance crew, and everyone who was involved in whatever capacity that day, your contribution was vital. I owe you my life.
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