Heart attack in Urunga restaurant

Two casual waitresses at Embers Woodfired Restaurant in Urunga were very glad of their first aid training when a customer had a heart attack on Saturday night during dinner with family and friends.

The group of about 15 were in a back section of the restaurant used for functions, so the first Renee Perks knew of the incident was when someone from the family came forward to raise the alarm.

“I think it was his brother – I think he said ‘you need to contact an ambulance, my brother’s collapsed’,” Renee said.  “So I rang the ambulance and asked Rhiannah to start CPR.”

Both Renee Perks and Rhiannah Neaves are student midwives and they had done compulsory first aid and CPR training in February.

“I was on the front counter and Renee came out to me saying I think we need CPR at the back,” Rhiannah said. “She grabbed the phone to call the ambulance and I went straight out to where the man was. He was being supported in the chair by the group of people he was sitting with, but he was unresponsive, so I got the guys to get him on the floor for me and put him in the recovery position. I tried to feel a pulse and check his airways but there was no response.

“He had like a grunting, gurgling sound happening but I couldn’t feel a pulse so I got them to help me get him onto his back and I just commenced CPR straight away. Renee was on the phone to the paramedics and they were relaying information to us on what to do.”

The paramedics told them compressions were the most important thing at this point and not to worry about doing breaths.

Both of the young women had only done CPR on a dummy previously.

“And it’s completely different on a real person,” Rhiannah said. “With the dummy, there’s a click to tell you that you’re going to the right depth but on a real person you don’t have that click. And it’s a lot harder, especially on a man.”

Both women admitted they felt daunted and scared. The ambulance service had told them to keep going until the paramedics arrived, but doing the chest compressions, even on a man of average build, soon became tiring.

“It felt like a lifetime from when we began CPR until the paramedics arrived. It was actually about 15 minutes,” Rhiannah said. 

“Renee ended up handing the phone to one of the other customers in the restaurant to relay information and she hopped down on the floor with me and was feeling for his pulse. And I got to the point where I was too exhausted to continue, so Renee took over doing compressions, and then I took over again, and then we got another man from the group to take over towards the end because we were both so exhausted.”

Both women stressed the importance of CPR training for everybody.

“You never know when it’s going to happen,” Rhiannah said. “I did everything I could to give him the best chance.”

“We’ve been learning how to respond in an emergency situation and that training just kicked straight in,” Renee said.

Although it can be lifesaving, CPR can also create other injuries, such as broken ribs, and Renee thought there was a chance she may have done this.

“Possibly, yeah. I just think you have to do your best in the moment,” she said.

Embers Restaurant is closed for holidays this week, so the young women are still waiting to find out what happened to the man they brought back to life.

The paramedics returned after taking him to hospital and said he was ‘stabilised but not out of the woods’.

“I’d love to know how he’s travelling but we haven’t heard yet,” Renee said.