Case Study: Charlotte - 'Cardiac arrests happen to patients, not to Nurses'

On Boxing Day 2017, Charlotte’s world came crashing down when she suffered a cardiac arrest. Her incredible engineer husband performed eight minutes of CPR on Charlotte. This was the week of her 41st birthday, and she had no previous cardiac history. 

Although Charlotte was an NHS Nurse Manager for 23 years and had been involved in many cardiac arrest situations, she was now suddenly the patient and left in a state of hopelessness and feeling very alone.  

In December 2017, at 2:20am, Charlotte let out a gasp, which woke her husband Stuart. As he turned the light on, Charlotte was letting out occasional groans, had pin pricked eyes, and was going blue. Stuart dialled 999, pulled Charlotte onto the floor, where he started eight minutes of CPR until the paramedics arrived.  

The horrific ordeal was witnessed by their children, who were aged 14 and 10 at the time.  

Charlotte said: I was told that once I arrived at hospital, I arrested a further three times. I remember waking up in ITU, the following day, asking where I was. My parents were there and told me I had had a cardiac arrest 

“I remember shouting at them, and asking who did CPR on me, Nurses don’t have cardiac arrests, I would have had a warning.” 

On January 2nd 2018, Charlotte was fitted with an  ICD and discharged home the following day. She was thrust a leaflet, told not to go deep sea diving or near magnets, and that she would lose her driving license for six months. 

Charlotte said: “As my husband was putting me into the car, I remember thinking once we get home, we can just move on and forget all about this, after all, I am Charlotte the Nurse, not a patient.” 

Soon after discharge Charlotte felt very alone and in a state of hopelessness. Following a Facebook search some three months after discharge, she found Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK, which suddenly made her feel like she was no longer alone. Through them, Charlotte and her husband had the most incredible support from people who simply got how they felt. 

Since finding the group, Charlotte has set up a registered charity - Do it for Defib. They have placed their 21 public access defibrillator and have trained nearly 2000 people to do CPR.  

Charlotte said: “I am over five years into my journey, only with counselling have I realised that each breath will not be my last, that any one of us can be a patient at any time, that life can change in the blink of an eye. 

“However, this required specialist trauma counselling,  which allowed me to accept that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). With four sessions, I felt I was gaining control of my mental health again, a journey which I feel may need further support in the future, but for now, I will live to see tomorrow.” 

“ I am also a part of the RCUK survivors campaign – ‘My Right to Cardiac Arrest Recovery’, which brings to the attention of decision-makers the unequal provision of accessible targeted rehabilitation for cardiac arrest survivors across the UK. In January 2023, I joined the RCUK Survivor Forum Group, to ensure my experience informs this parliamentary campaign. The recommendations developed by this group are being presented to parliamentarians at a Westminster reception in June. 

The importance of the campaign is paramount in ensuring that everyone affected by involvement in a Cardiac Arrest, can access appropriate, ongoing, personalised support; something I did not get. Thankfully I had incredible family support and received counselling via a charity, however this is often not the case for many survivors.

“The trauma of surviving a cardiac arrest is unmeasurable for so many survivors and this is often an area which is overlooked as the physical element takes precedence. The campaign wants to ensure mental health support is available and that survivors are able to see that there is life after a cardiac arrest, as well as family members, who are often the ones left to pick up the pieces. 

“I am extremely proud and honoured to be part of this for future cardiac arrest survivors, so that they don’t feel alone and there is a reason to live after this life changing event.”