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Charity runner thanks ambulance crew following heart attack

A grandad who had a heart attack after doing the Great North Run has met the emergency service workers who helped save his life.

Paul Durham, 68, from Grantham in Lincolnshire, met with paramedic Rachael Hewitt and clinical care assistant Emma Newton just four weeks after the incident. Rachael and Emma, who both work for North East Ambulance Service (NEAS), were called during their 12-hour shift to reports of a man with chest pains after taking part in the Great North Run that day. A seasoned runner, this was Paul’s 11th time doing the half marathon. However, it wasn’t the only physical challenge he had undertaken. In the lead-up to the Great North Run, Paul had tasked himself with doing a 10K run every day for 70 days, culminating in the Great North Run to raise money for Diabetes UK. “I wanted to challenge myself and do something different,” he explained. “In previous years I had done 40 10Ks in 40 days, then 50, then 60, so thought why not see if I can do 70?” Paul remembers the race itself went well. He was able to run the second half quicker than the first and finished in under two hours. After finishing the race, Paul met his daughter in the pub. It wasn’t until later he began to feel unwell. Assuming it was exertion from running, they decided to head back to where they were staying. Paul had travelled from Lincolnshire with his daughter for the weekend. They had hired a motor home and were staying at Westoe rugby club in South Shields. It was around an hour later that they made a call to 999. “The pain was like someone pressing on my chest,” Paul said. “I knew something wasn’t right. In the back of my mind, I thought I could be having a heart attack.” Rachael and Emma were in the middle of a hectic shift when they were sent to the sports ground. Road diversions and heavy rain made it difficult to navigate the ambulance to Paul. Emma recalls worrying they would get stuck in the mud bringing the ambulance onto the pitch. “Paul seemed quite relaxed when we got there and seemed a little embarrassed to have called us,” Rachael remembers. “We both congratulated him on his running achievement and were joking around, with Emma saying she couldn’t even run for the bus!” Within minutes of arriving, the crew monitored Paul’s heart and it quickly became clear he was having a heart attack. Rachael, who is based at Monkton ambulance station, explained, “I said to Paul, I’m going to be fully open and honest with you, you’re currently having a heart attack.” Rachael and Emma had to act quickly, explaining to Paul that he was going to be taken to the Freeman Hospital for further treatment. Whilst travelling in the ambulance, Paul’s blood pressure began to drop. Emma said: “We were concerned he might go into cardiac arrest. I remember driving really fast along the Coast Road thinking I just wanted to get him there as quickly as I could because he was deteriorating.” They arrived at the Freeman Hospital and Paul was taken straight into theatre where he was fitted with two stents. He was discharged a day later. Paul has been recovering well and the incident hasn’t deterred his passion for running. “I hope to be running again soon. I’m signed up for next year’s Great North Run but I don’t think I’ll be doing 70 10Ks before again,” he said. “I just want to say thank you. I owe the ambulance staff and everyone who helped so much.” On being reunited with Paul, Rachael said: “We rarely find out the outcomes for patients after getting them to hospital so it was great to hear Paul had been discharged and doing well. “His fitness was a credit to him and enabled him to tolerate what was happening. I was acutely aware of just how time critical the situation was for him. I’m proud to have played a part in Paul’s treatment and wish him all the best for his continuing recovery.” Emma, who is based at Swalwell ambulance station, said: “This is a job that will stay in my mind for a long time. I’m pleased we got Paul to a place of definitive care as quickly as we did. I’m beyond pleased he’s back home and hope he’s able to get back running as soon as he can. I’m just glad we could help him when he needed us. “Obviously we don’t do this job for praise but it’s lovely to hear when you’ve done the job well and someone wants to thank you.” While symptoms can vary, the most common signs of a heart attack are:

  • Chest pain or discomfort that suddenly occurs and doesn’t go away. This can feel like pressure, squeezing or heaviness on your chest. It can also feel like a burning sensation or indigestion

  • Pain that may spread to your left or right arm or may spread to your neck, jaw, back or stomach

  • Feeling sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath

Heart attack symptoms can persist over days or they can come on unexpectedly.

Contact Information North East Ambulance Service Public Relations

North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (NEAS) covers 3,200 square miles across the North East region. It employs more than 2,900 staff and serves a population of 2.7 million people by handling all NHS 111 and 999 calls for the region, operating patient transport and ambulance response services, delivering training for communities and commercial audiences and providing medical support cover at events. NEAS has 55 ambulance stations and covers 3,230 square miles. It has three emergency operation centres based in Newcastle, Hebburn and Wynyard. It operates 175 double crewed vehicles and 220 patient transport vehicles as well as 45 rapid response cars, a fleet of support vehicles including driver training and specialist vehicles for the Hazardous Area Response Team. In 2021/22, the service answered more than 1.15m emergency 999 and NHS 111 calls, with more than 270,000 patients taken to hospital, more than 48,000 patients treated and discharged over the phone and more than 115,000 patients treated and discharged at home. It responded to more than 22,000 C1 serious and life-threatening incidents in 7 minutes.

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