A father-of-two has described how his life was saved by a newly-qualified nurse who spent 45 minutes performing CPR in cramped conditions onboard a long-haul flight.
James Birch was returning from a two-week holiday in Thailand with his partner Julie Daniels when he went into sudden cardiac arrest at 38,000ft on the Qatar jet.
After cabin crew called for medical help over the tannoy, Isobel Corrie stepped forward to perform CPR for the first time before the plane diverted to Mumbai.
The Oxford Brookes University graduate, now working in her first role at Warwick Hospital, had been asleep before managing the emergency care on August 25 last year.
Speaking to CoventryLive, James said: “She performed a miracle on that plane.
“Ninety-four out of a hundred people who that happened to wouldn’t have made it, especially not without the accuracy and professionalism that she displayed.”
The couple, from Ealing, West London, had boarded at Bangkok Airport after enjoying driving and exploring in Thailand away from the main tourist trails.
The medical emergency began with no warning signs shortly after James put his feet up and relaxed in front of a movie.
Isobel Corrie has been nominated in the Nurse Awards 2020 – vote here
“From my perspective the lights went off,” he said. “There was no warning, no symptoms, no nothing. I don’t even remember starting to watch that film because I’ve lost a lot of memories from the plane.
“Everything just went dark and I woke up forty-eight hours later in ICU in Mumbai, so I lost two days.
“As I went into flat-line cardiac arrest I was basically just a prop, I wasn’t doing anything other than fighting for my life, whatever that means. I’ve got no recall of a whole raft of stuff, the call for help, Isobel turning up, her and the crew essentially bringing me back from the dead and getting taken to hospital.
“It was a bolt from the blue, it came out of nowhere.”
Touched by response
Isobel performed CPR for 45 minutes and used a defibrillator until her patient was breathing but the emergency care she provided along with crew members lasted for an hour and a half until the plane diverted to Mumbai and he could be handed over to a medical team.
James was left with nine broken ribs as a result of the chest compressions, which the nurse delivered in line with medical advice, as she fought to keep the blood flowing around his body.
In hospital, where he says the quality of care he received was exemplary, he was able to recover to the point where he celebrated his birthday. His son and daughter flew out to be with their father and he shared an emotional voice call with Isobel after they made contact via social media.
The IT consultant was also touched by the response from friends of friends and complete strangers who turned up at the hospital with gifts and offers of help after word spread about the mid-air drama.
He still needed another eight weeks in hospital after the couple returned to the UK and says the fact he has not been left with any lasting physical damage from the prolonged spell of CPR is testament to Isobel’s decisive intervention.
The 53-year-old Brentford FC fan is now leading a full life with his partner.
“One of the things that can happen when you have prolonged CPR is brain injuries because the normal amount of oxygen isn’t getting into the brain,” he said.
“You can end up having to relearn how to walk or speak, the same kind of injuries you get with a stroke.
“Other than some minor memory loss I’ve suffered no lasting physical or functional impacts at all.
“That’s testament to what a good job she did.
“In fact, when we were back in London and we were in cardiology recounting the story to a specialist, he said if Isobel ever wants a job in cardiology then she should give his hospital a call.
“We did relay that to Isobel but I think she’s quite happy in Warwick.”
Isobel, who attended her graduation ceremony the week after saving James’s life, now works in a gastrointestinal surgery department for South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust.
To say thanks, James has nominated her for a Royal College of Nursing (RCNi) Nurse Award 2020.
He said: “When someone steps up and performs that kind of miracle how do you say thankyou?
“Unless you’re a billionaire there really isn’t a lot you can do to show how grateful you are, but this award came up at the perfect time.
“Hopefully she will win it and that will go some way to expressing how grateful we are.”
Isobel is nominated for a Patient’s Choice award, which enables members of the public to thank a nurse, midwife, health visitor, healthcare assistant or assistant practitioner who has provided exceptional care.
A public vote for the six finalists is open and closes on Friday, September 11, with the winner to be announced at a virtual ceremony later this year.
Vote for Isobel here