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Nurse’s swift CPR response at wedding saves bride’s uncle’s life

Kelly Ann McCabe

Kelly Ann McCabe

Kelly Ann McCabe went from wedding guest to hero when she saved the bride’s uncle from near certain death as he went into cardiac arrest recently.   And in doing so she highlighted the importance of ordinary members of the public being trained in CPR and recognising the signs of a cardiac arrest so they too might become a life-saver one day.

The 30-year-old staff nurse in St Luke’s General Hospital had travelled to Ennis from Kilkenny on October 2nd, looking forward to a day of relaxation and celebration for her neighbour’s wedding.   During the pre-reception drinks at the hotel in Ennis, Kelly Ann and her partner Mark noticed a man stumbling and falling. Soon after, there was noticeable panic and somebody shouted if there was a medic in the room.

“Mark told me to go over and see if I could help. I ran to the man but it is so difficult to assess somebody without any prior information or patient history. It’s like being put into a situation blind-folded. But I could tell from him that he wasn’t looking great,” explained Kelly Ann.   

She got him down on the floor and knew instinctively to put him on his back.

“Another person, a volunteer medic, came to assist me. After a few seconds, he said that we didn’t need to perform CPR because the man was breathing but I knew something wasn’t right. I recognised that he was doing what is known as agonal breathing. It sounds almost like a snore and is a sure sign that a person is struggling to get oxygen in. So I went with my gut and said I needed to start chest compressions,” she said.

An ambulance was called but was some time away so a community responder was dispatched to the scene. The duty manager in the hotel ran to get a defibrillator in the centre of the town.   “It felt like an eternity doing the compressions. When the AED (defibrillator) arrived, I gave the patient three shocks and then he became alert. I can’t explain the relief I felt when the AED was attached and it gave the message to shock the patient. I am a trained nurse but you start to question your own judgement in a situation like this. I had no access to any monitoring so it was all done on instinct,” she said.

The ambulance arrived and the paramedics took over the care of Pat, who was by now alert and doing a lot better.    “The emotion of it all just got the better of me. I was in a total state of shock and was trembling. The family were so grateful and kept saying how thankful they were that I was there. But I was so uncomfortable with the praise and was still so uncertain if I had done everything I should have done,” said Kelly Ann.

A few days later, the man still on her mind. She contacted the bride to see if there was any news.   

“She told me that her uncle was feeling much better and he was getting an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) fitted to prevent another cardiac arrest. I was so relieved to hear that,” she said.   “He sent me a lovely message and his family also sent a lovely card thanking me. He said he is not a religious person but something about a guardian angel stood out to him during the wedding ceremony and he insists that I was his on the day.”

Kelly Ann, who only qualified as a nurse two years ago, said that anyone with CPR training could find themselves saving someone’s life.   “It just takes one person with the right training to be in the right place to make a real difference. It is so important that people know what to do in these situations and how to recognise when someone needs CPR. If my story can teach just a few people about agonal breathing and when to recognise it, then I will be just delighted.”

Kelly Ann hopes to visit him soon as he continues on his road to recovery and he is looking forward to properly meeting his ‘guardian angel’.