Date published: 29 April 2024

A usually fit and healthy Nottinghamshire grandfather who went into cardiac arrest while sat next to his young granddaughter on the sofa, has been reunited with the emergency team who saved his life.

In the early evening of 9 November 2023, while his seven-year-old granddaughter Summer was tucking into her dinner after swimming, 67-year-old Chris Handley would usually have said his goodbyes to her and his daughter April before heading home.

But on this occasion, he decided to stay a little longer. This seemingly random decision ultimately saved Chris’s life.

Chris said: “If I’d have left my daughter’s house when I usually leave, and I’d have been at home alone, I wouldn’t be alive today for sure.

“Going into cardiac arrest is like someone flicking off a light switch.

“I didn’t feel a thing.

“My last memory was talking to Summer on the sofa, mentioning to her how good I thought her dinner looked.

“I then woke up eight days later in intensive care.”

Someone who does remember everything so vividly is his daughter April.

She said: “I was in the kitchen when I heard Summer say, ‘stop pretending to be asleep granddad!’

“When I came in to see what was happening, my dad was snoring, gargling and went pale in colour.

“Then there was no breathing and no pulse.”

April knew in that moment that Chris needed emergency help and fast, so dialled 999.

The call was answered by Emergency Medical Advisor Julie Hill. Based on the information April was able to provide to Julie, it was identified that Chris was in cardiac arrest.

April continued: “I got him on the floor and started to do chest compressions.

“Being an ex-police officer I had regular training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), along with other life-saving skills.

“Despite having the instinct of knowing what to do in this situation, it was completely different this time because it was my dad in trouble.

“It was really upsetting for Summer when she realised that granddad wasn’t being silly.

“She started screaming and crying asking if granddad was dead.

“I had to try and comfort her and take her mind off what was happening by getting her to check the door was unlocked for the crew.

“The call taker was so kind, calming and reassuring. She made me feel like I wasn’t alone in the situation.”

Paramedic Ben King and Emergency Care Assistant Elliot Cross arrived on scene just six minutes after the 999 call to take over CPR from April, followed by Paramedic Tamsin Ryan, and Critical Care Paramedic Sam Cooper from The Air Ambulance Service.

Ben said: “April did amazing CPR which resulted in Chris’s heart being in a shockable rhythm when we got to the scene.

“After five shocks from the defibrillator we managed to get Chris’s heart beating again.”

Chris was then taken out of the house by the crew and transported via ambulance to Queen’s Medical Centre Hospital in Nottingham.

Following his three weeks in hospital, Chris had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) fitted, accompanied by six weeks of rehabilitation sessions.

Five months on and Chris says things are “back to normal” and he has gone back to swimming three times a week, exploring the great outdoors and spending quality time with his family.

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 Chris Handley) is when your heart suddenly stops pumping blood around your body. Although it is sometimes mistaken 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 April Handley rang 999 for her dad 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 to 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.