Date published: 24 August 2023

A retired Nottinghamshire firefighter who went into cardiac arrest while he lay in bed has been reunited with the emergency team who saved his life.

In the early hours of the morning on 30 May 2022, Robert Fensom, from Hucknall would usually get out of bed to take his dog out for a walk.

But on this occasion, he wasn’t stirring. Sue Fensom, his wife of 40 years, thinking this was very odd, went to try and wake him only to make the frightening discovery that he was unresponsive, and his breathing was shallow.

Robert said: “I don’t remember anything from a few days leading up to what happened.

“I don’t even have any recollection of watching the Nottingham Forest Football game the day before, which as an avid fan of the club is not something I would normally forget attending.”

Someone who does remember everything so vividly is his wife, Sue.

She said: “Robert normally gets up at around 5.30am to take the dog out for a morning stroll at the nearby park, but on this particular morning he was just lying there, and I could hear him making strange gurgling noises.

“The sounds coming from Robert were something I had never heard before and I started to become scared.

“I decided to roll him over and that is when I could see Robert’s face. One of his eyes was bulging open and it was just blankly staring at me, with the other eye closed shut.

“I shook him really hard and yelled at him but was getting no response from him.”

Sue decided that Robert needed emergency help and fast, so dialled 999.

Chloe Irving stood smiling in a garden. There is an ornamental blue bird to her right. She is in her green uniform.

The call was answered by Emergency Medical Advisor Chloe Irving (pictured above). Based on the information Sue was able to provide Chloe, it was identified that Robert was in cardiac arrest.

Chloe said: “I started to instruct Sue that she needed to start doing chest compressions on Robert as soon as possible.

“Sue was initially having some difficulties as she explained that her husband was on the bed when we needed him to be on a hard and flat surface for Sue to be able to commence effective cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

“Sue was concerned about hurting Robert as she would need to push him off the bed, but I reassured her we needed to help him immediately and not to worry about the fall.

“Despite this being a very scary and distressing experience for Sue, she listened to my instructions which will have no doubt given Robert a fighting chance until the ambulance crew arrived.”

Sue had never needed to do CPR until that morning and admits to not knowing what it was or how it was needed to be performed before then.

She added: “The lady on the other end of the phone instigated me to start doing what Robert needed me to do, which I believe has played a massive part in him still being with us today.”

Rob Keenan stood in a garden surrounded by green plants. He is wearing a green ambulance shirt.

Paramedic Rob Keenan (pictured above) was first on scene in his fast response vehicle. He immediately took over CPR from Sue.

Rob said: “I identified that Robert’s heart was in a shockable rhythm, so I began with a resuscitation attempt and used a defibrillator, which managed to get his heart beating again.

"Sue commencing chest compressions as soon as Chloe told her to do saved her husband's life."

Minutes later, Rob received back up from Ed Cannon, Paramedic and Duty Commander, and an ambulance crew teamed by Paramedic Ellen Beer and Technician Rosie Blyton-Flewitt. The Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance was also in attendance and was crewed by Dr Tim Smith and Paramedic Karl Bexon, and Robert was taken in the ambulance to Queen’s Medical Centre for further treatment.

Robert added: “I was fitted with a pacemaker which sends electrical pulses to my heart to keep it beating regularly without me even noticing.

“I’m grateful to still be alive, with no life-changing impacts, meaning I can continue to keep fit and active which is what I love to do.”

Top tips

A medical emergency involving the heart, such as a cardiac arrest or a heart attack can happen to anyone at any time.

A cardiac arrest (what happened to Robert Fensom) is when your heart suddenly stops pumping blood around your body. Although it is sometimes mistake for a heart attack, if someone is in cardiac arrest they collapse suddenly and will be unconscious, unresponsive, and not breathing or breathing normally – this may mean they’re making gasping noises.

A heart attack happens when there’s a sudden loss of blood flow to a part of the heart muscle. This causes symptoms such as pain or a feeling of pressure or a burning in the chest. Someone having a heart attack is usually conscious.

Both a cardiac arrest and a heart attack are medical emergencies, and you should call 999 straight away.

You can listen to the moment Sue Fensom rang 999 for her husband Rob below.

While we don’t want to scare people, it is important to consider the following tips to help increase yours and others’ chances of survival should the worst happen:

Cardiac arrest

  • Learn how to do CPR – receiving CPR within the first three to four minutes of a cardiac arrest is crucial in terms of maximising the chances of survival and reducing the risk of the person living with a brain injury if they do survive. The British Heart Foundation also has really helpful resources on CPR and defibrillators. 
  • When calling 999 for someone who is in cardiac arrest, in addition being advised to perform CPR, if there is someone else with you they may be advised to go and fetch a public access defibrillator if we identify an available one nearby. They are often in places like train stations, schools, and shopping centres. Anyone can use one and you don’t need training to do so.

Heart attack

  • If you’re experiencing chest pains, try not to exert yourself physically unnecessarily, such as going upstairs to bed if you’re already downstairs – instead lay yourself down on the sofa. Most chest pain is not a sign of anything serious but you should get medical advice just in case. If the pain gets worse (makes your chest feel tight or heavy) or rapidly starts progressing to other parts of the body eg arms, back, neck or jaw – this could be a heart attack. If this happens, call 999 and remain downstairs so the responding ambulance crew will have easy access to you. 
  • If you have had a heart attack, it's important that you rest while you wait for an ambulance, to avoid unnecessary strain on your heart. When you call 999, the Emergency Medical Advisor may advise you to take aspirin for this chest pain. Aspirin helps to thin your blood and improve blood flow to your heart.