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A visit to the Air Corps

Sligo woman Rosaleen White’s bike trip through one of Ireland’s beauty spots almost led to tragedy.

rosaleen and her family

37-year-old Rosaleen, an ICU nurse, was out cycling through Lenane in Connemara two years ago when she went into sudden cardiac arrest and collapsed. Fortunately, the cyclist behind her was trained in CPR and was able to administer CPR and save Rosaleen’s life.

She spoke about her experience ahead of Restart a Heart Day. The aim of Restart a Heart is to raise awareness about out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) and to promote training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The event has grown in popularity in recent years and is officially a global event for 2018.

“I was about 30km into a tour from Westport. My brother had been with me but he had gone on ahead. Suddenly I started to feel unwell and had this heaviness in my chest. Then I was gone,”

“I actually cracked my helmet with the fall. By the time Jeanette Gray came upon me about a minute and a half later, I had turned blue. She was trained in CPR so treated me for 10 minutes on her own. Then Therese O’Grady came past and she was also trained in CPR and was able to work on me too. They were working on me for 27 minutes which is such a long time.”

The lack of mobile phone coverage was a problem for the pair as they tried desperately to send a 999 call out. One eventually had to stand on top of a lorry to get a signal. The cycle race had a Civil Defence team providing the medical support and they got to the scene as soon as they got the call.

“They had a defibrillator and were able to give me two shocks and restarted my heart. I was then airlifted from the scene but I have absolutely no recollection of that.”

Cardiologists told the fit and healthy mum of four that the cardiac attack was triggered by an electrical issue in her heart.

“They explained to me that it wasn’t a plumbing problem – there were no blockages or anything – and it was actually an electrical problem,” says Rosaleen, who had an internal defibrillator fitted.

Because the CPR went on for a long time and nobody knew exactly how long she had been alone on the ground before help arrived, there was a risk that Rosaleen could have suffered brain damage due to the lack of oxygen getting to the brain. She laughs when she recalls her first conversation with her dad after she came around in the hospital.

“I had taken my mother’s car to the cycle and parked in my brother’s mother-in-law’s house. The first thing Dad said to me was ‘What did you do with your mother’s car?’ I replied that I had parked it outside Maureen’s house and that I had two bottles of wine for her still in the boot. I remember thinking that he was losing it, and what an odd thing to ask me in the hospital bed. But he was actually just checking if my memory and mind were okay,” says Rosaleen.

Rosaleen and her husband and four children recently made the trip to Baldonnell on the invitation of the Air Corps who airlifted her to hospital two years ago.

“The kids loved getting a look around the helicopter and it was great to be able to thank the people that had helped me,” she says.

Life has returned to normal for Rosaleen. “I am allowed to exercise and go to the gym. But it is just more controlled now and I keep an eye on my heart rate. I am back at work now although it did take a full year to get over everything that had happened and to get my confidence back,” she adds.