A Red Cross defibrillator that had bounced around in the back of a Southland truck for over 11 years ‘in case someone ever needed it’, ended up saving its owner’s life.

On a typical August morning, Southland real estate agent Paula Laughton had finished up her training session and was heading to an appointment with an accountant. As she walked to the front door of the gym she realised her business partner, Philip ‘Pip’ Ryan, was still working out on a nearby exercise bike.

“I said to him, ‘You’re cutting it fine! We’ve got to be at this meeting in 15 minutes!’ But he promised he’d meet me there,” recalls Paula.

Pip had been a mentor to Paula since she was 18 years-old, and she’d spent countless hours in the passenger seat of his Toyota Landcruiser learning the ropes of rural real estate.

“We’ve worked together for over 20 years now, so we know each other pretty well’” laughs Paula. 

Despite being in a hurry to get to her appointment with the accountant, Paula had paused in the gym car park to make some quick phone calls.

“I even sent a SnapChat. Which is funny when you think about it, because that’s what actually delayed me long enough,” says Paula.

Unbeknownst to her, inside the gym Pip had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. Nobody saw him fall from the exercise bike, but they heard the thud as he hit the floor.

A trainer rushed to Pip’s aid, while a fellow gym-goer ran outside to tell Paula.

“I’d never actually spoken to the woman before, but she’d seen Pip and I in the gym lots of times. She knew I’d only just left, it was amazing she thought to run out and stop me from leaving,” says Paula.

Racing back inside the gym, Paula found a group of people surrounding Pip. As they called 111, Paula knew what she had to do.

“He needs a defibrillator,” she shouted.

11 years earlier, Pip and Paula had attended a Red Cross first aid training course. It was there that they were introduced to automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and their lifesaving potential.

Pip had bought his first AED soon after, “in case someone ever needed it”, and it had bounced around in the back of his Landcruiser, unused, for nearly 700,000kms.

That was about to change.

A frantic Paula was able to find Pip’s gym locker, grab his bag, then make a beeline for his vehicle. She unlocked the doors, only to find a malfunction with the boot latch meant she couldn’t get to the defibrillator.

After what seemed like an eternity, Paula managed to get the boot open, pull out the AED, and rush back inside.

“When I got back some of the others had started CPR, so I just focused on the defibrillator,” says Paula.

As we opened the device the AED’s voice prompts began taking her and the other rescuers through the process of attaching the adhesive pads to Pip’s chest. Despite the panic and surging adrenalin, they were able to get everything in place.

“It all came flooding back to me from our training,” she says.

After analysing Pip’s heart rhythm, the voice prompts instructed everyone to stand back as the device prepared to deliver a shock.

“At that point I just remember thinking, ‘this thing better work’,” said Paula.

Five minutes and 50 seconds after Pip had collapsed, the AED successfully delivered its first shock. It eventually delivered a second shock that was able to restore his heart rhythm.

Soon after this second shock, the local fire crew arrived and took over CPR.

“That’s when I knew I had to call Sharron,” says Paula.   

When Pip’s wife Sharon arrived at the gym, he still wasn’t out of the woods. She eventually travelled with him to Dunedin hospital where he spent several days recovering.

Sharron remembers the hospital staff asking her, ‘Is it really true? Was he saved by his own AED?’

“They just couldn’t believe it. They said there was no way we would have survived if the defib wasn’t used. They were calling him ‘Mr AED’,” says Sharron.

Three stents and some well-earned rest later, Pip is back at work with Paula like nothing ever happened. With three little exceptions.

“Three more AEDs have been purchased in our company. That means we have one for the office, and three out on the road,” says Pip.

He is grateful for Paula and the other rescuers who saved his life that day.

“If it wasn’t for Paula, I would have died. And if it wasn’t for that Red Cross course all those years ago, I wouldn’t have never bought a defibrillator. I never would have thought about it,” he says.

Sharron remembers when Pip first brought the AED home all those years ago. 

“At the time our son Liam had said, ‘It’s such a lot of money, Dad’. And they were more expensive back then. But Pip was always adamant, ‘If it saves one life, it’ll be worth it,’”

Safe to say, everyone agrees it was.

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