lady looking in the distance - save a life

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Sharon Thorneywork: ‘It was only when I arrived at work that it hit me. I started to cry, overwhelmed at what had just happened’

My thoughts were elsewhere that morning. I was running late for work, so although I noticed a man get on the bus and sit behind me, it didn’t really register. I was just wondering if I’d make my meeting when suddenly the man fell forward into the footwell by my seat. At first I thought he’d tripped getting off, as we’d just pulled up at a stop, but I took one look and realised he’d collapsed.

He was gasping for breath, then stopped breathing and started turning blue. “Call an ambulance!” I shouted to the bus driver.

I couldn’t feel a pulse in his wrist, so I tried his neck and there was nothing. He was turning deeper and deeper blue – almost purple.

Some of the other passengers had crowded round by this time. “Does anyone know CPR?” I asked. I have a problem with my shoulders and knew that doing chest compressions would be painful. I also thought that maybe someone could do it better, but no one came forward so I realised that it was down to me.

Although I work at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, it’s not in a medical role and I haven’t had first-aid training. I vaguely recalled a video of Vinnie Jones doing chest compressions to the tune of Stayin’ Alive because it has the right tempo for the procedure – 100 beats a minute.

I rolled the man over on to his back, clasped one hand on top of the other and started to pump his chest, singing the Bee Gees classic: “You can tell by the way I use my walk I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk.” My mum was a big Bee Gees fan, so I knew all the words; it felt surreal but it helped me keep focused. I also knew that unless you’re trained in first aid, it’s more important to focus on chest compressions than on mouth-to-mouth.

The bus driver told me to carry on; there was help on the way. People had gathered outside and were looking through the window but I barely noticed. “Please come back, please breathe,” I murmured to him.

I asked the bus driver to phone my work and heard him tell them that I’d be late “because she’s doing CPR on a bloke on the bus” and that they’d be very proud of me. I couldn’t imagine their reaction.

After seven minutes, a rapid response paramedic turned up and immediately shooed everyone but me out of the bus, for which I was grateful. He told me to carry on, reassuring me that I was doing it properly, and went to get his kit. The man still looked awful and was completely unresponsive.

The heart monitor showed a flat line, so the paramedic used a defibrillator to try to restart his heart. That was unsuccessful and I carried on pumping.

An ambulance arrived shortly afterwards and another paramedic took over from me. I still wasn’t sure if he was dead or alive. I knew the paramedics were shocking him again in the ambulance as I sank back on to my seat. The bus driver gave me a hug and thanked me but I was in a daze, utterly exhausted.

After the ambulance pulled off, the other passengers got back on the bus and we carried on our journey. I just sat there reeling. It was only when I arrived at work and saw my colleague that it hit me and I started to cry, overwhelmed at what had just happened.

My instinct was to play it down – one part of me desperately wanted to know how the man was but the other was afraid to ask. I knew that if he had died I would be devastated.

Two hours later a policeman rang and told me the man was breathing on his own. I was over the moon. I also learned that I had been doing chest compressions for 18 minutes and that my efforts had saved his life – the paramedics only shocked him repeatedly because I had kept the blood circulating. It would have been pointless otherwise.

Although I couldn’t stop replaying events in my head in the weeks that followed, I thought that would be the last I heard of him. But two months later Terry Holly contacted me. We met up and he gave me an engraved heart to say thank you.

It was wonderful to see him looking so much better. Although we’d never met before and never will again, I felt a close bond with Terry. He told me that he’d had a pacemaker fitted and we joked about Stayin’ Alive being our song – definitely the extended remix version.

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