13 October 2017

When South Western Ambulance Service crews were called to Boscombe Pier, Bournemouth they had no idea what they would find when they got there. Their only information was that a man had started choking and had now stopped breathing.

With the first clinician on scene in less than two minutes, friends directed the crew along the dimly-lit pier, where another friend was already performing CPR, as directed by the calm emergency medical dispatcher on the line from the 999 control room.

You can listen to audio from the 999 call here.

Initial assessment by Specialist Paramedic Matt Harrison confirmed that the patient was in a desperate situation, with a blocked airway and was now in cardiac arrest.  As the paramedics questioned the friends further, it appeared that the 28 year old had been joking around with a fish he had just caught. The patient had put the fish over his mouth but the fish wiggled free, promptly jumping straight down the patient’s throat causing a complete obstruction.

Martyn Box the Operations Officer who also attended the incident said “The boys were giving really good CPR on our arrival as instructed by the Control room staff. Initially we didn’t know the true extent of the situation or what the patient was choking on, but as we questioned them further we were told he had a whole fish stuck in his windpipe’.

As the patient’s heart had already stopped, we continued CPR and achieved the return of a pulse after about 3 minutes, and then transferred the patient quickly by stretcher to the ambulance.

Further assessment of the patients’ airway indicated that despite artificially ventilating him with a bag and mask, the patient’s chest remained silent, suggesting that there was total airway occlusion and despite best efforts he was not receiving any oxygen.

Matt Harrison said that re-assessment of the patient once in the ambulance indicated further deterioration and we once again began to lose cardiac output. ‘It was clear that we needed to get the fish out or this patient was not going to survive the short journey to Royal Bournemouth Hospital. I used a laryngoscope to fully extend the mouth and throat and saw what appeared like an altered colour of tissue in his throat. Using a McGills forceps I was able to eventually dislodge the tip of the tail and very carefully, so as not to break the tail off I tried to remove it - although the fish’s barbs and gills were getting stuck on the way back up. I was acutely aware that I only had one attempt at getting this right as if I lost grip or a piece broke off and it slid further out of sight then there was nothing more that we could have done to retrieve the obstruction.’

Eventually after six attempts the fish came out in one piece and to our amazement it was a whole Dover Sole, measuring approx. 14cm in length.

Matt Harrison said “I have never attended a more bizarre incident and don’t think I ever will – but we’re all so glad the patient has no lasting effects from his cardiac arrest, which could so easily have had such a tragic and devastating outcome’.

Upon arrival to Royal Bournemouth Hospital Emergency Department the patient had responded well enough to be able to answer a few basic questions, which was a huge relief and sense of achievement for us all.

This story just highlights how important it is for friends or bystanders to step in and start CPR when someone’s heart has stopped. Ahead of European ‘Restart a heart day’ 16 October, paramedics across South Western Ambulance service are urging everyone in the community to learn vital life-saving CPR skills.

Thousands of school children across the South West will be learning the life-saving techniques of how to give CPR from an army of SWASFT staff and First Responder volunteers who will be passing on their wisdom to support this year’s ‘Restart a Heart’ campaign.

Delivering the CPR training over the next week from Monday 9 October events will be running in the UK but also right across Europe in a big push for the European Restart a Heart Day on Monday 16 October 2017.

Demonstrations will be held in schools, community clubs, shopping centres and hospitals in a coordinated event that is anticipated to reach out to ten thousand people from the South West. The call, push and rescue techniques issues by the British Heart Foundation could literally save a friend, relative or loved one if the need ever did arise:

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A father-of-two who survived a cardiac arrest has been reunited with the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) paramedics and the Avon and Somerset Police officers who saved his life at a roadside layby.

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