Skip to main content

Granddaughter’s CPR training saves life

Through a lucky series of coincidences, Maureen’s 16-year-old granddaughter Sara-Anne was on hand to use her new CPR skills when Maureen had a cardiac arrest. Sara-Anne had only learnt CPR at college two weeks earlier, and her tutor had told her she was unlikely to ever need to use it.

Having a close family has always been very important for Maureen, with four children, 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. It was an unexpected evening visit from some of her family that kept her heart pumping when she experienced a sudden cardiac arrest.

“I was chatting away and I said to my daughter Maria, ‘Give me your hand’ – I don’t remember any of this at all – she said I squeezed her hand so hard, she thought I was fooling with her. I just made a sound and I’d gone. It was that fast, the cardiac arrest.”

Sara-Anne, Maureen’s granddaughter, rang 111 straight away. Maureen’s husband and daughter lifted her from the bed onto the floor and they both gave her mouth-to-mouth. Maureen was still unresponsive. The person on the 111 call told Sara-Anne to take over, as she had just completed a CPR course two weeks earlier.

“I only know what I have been told, but – according to the paramedics – it was Sara-Anne’s CPR that actually kept the oxygen going to my brain,” says proud grandmother Maureen. “She worked on me for about 15 minutes before the paramedics arrived.”

Three hazy days

Maureen’s husband described their quiet Waikanae Grove as having been “lit up like a Christmas tree,” Maureen says. “Two lots of medics arrived, followed by the local firemen. They had to defibrillate me six times because I’d come and I’d go, apparently.

“We always say our family news travels like jungle telegraph. Almost all the family were in Wellington hospital by the time I was brought in, and the doctor called the family together and told them that there was a very good chance I would either have a stroke or have brain damage due to the length of time without a heartbeat.

“I don’t remember anything for about three days. It’s all very, very hazy.”

The only thing Maureen remembers from those first few days in hospital is seeing a vision of her father, who had passed away some years earlier.

“I did see my father at some stage. I can describe him very, very clearly, I was following him through a field with a hill and he turned around sideways to me and he just said ‘Go back.’ That was very clear. I told the family that when I was still in hospital.

“I was in hospital for about two weeks. I can’t thank the staff or surgeons enough. They were just wonderful.”

Maureen had experienced both a heart attack and cardiac arrest, and she had a stent put into an artery on one side of her heart. Pneumonia and other complications kept her in hospital for two weeks, but eventually she was allowed to go home...

“One evening a few weeks after I came home, I felt really ill. Richard (my husband) immediately rang 111 and once again I was ambulanced to Wellington Hospital. I was due to have a second stent in January, but the decision was made to admit me and do the second stent then. Apparently my first stent had actually closed or blocked – ‘natural collateral’ had developed is how it was explained to me.

“Since then I have been well, although I haven’t got the energy I did have.”

Indigestion disguised her heart attack

At the time of her heart attack and cardiac arrest, Maureen was being treated for asthma and indigestion, and knew she had borderline high blood pressure, “but I didn’t know I had any heart condition whatsoever,” Maureen says.

The day of her heart attack, Maureen had been minding one of her great-grandchildren.

“After lunch I got this dreadful, really severe indigestion – or so I thought – and I rang my husband and asked if he could bring me some medication.

“I wouldn’t go to the doctor because I’d been two weeks earlier with a chest infection and had mentioned occasional chest pains and had an ECG which was clear.  The doctor said it was probably indigestion.”

When Maureen’s son-in-law popped in to pick up one of his sons, he rang his wife Ursula and told her he thought she should call in on her way home from work to see Maureen, because she looked ‘dreadful’.

“All afternoon I hadn’t felt well but not sick enough to think I’d need an ambulance or anything like that. When Ursula called in about half past seven, she wanted to take me to the doctors or to hospital and I said ‘No, I promise I’ll go in the morning if I’m not better.

“And then by coincidence my other daughter and my granddaughter called in – they’d been out for dinner. That’s how Sara-Anne came to be staying that night.”

How long did I have a heart condition that I didn’t know about?

“Had Sara-Anne not been there, and if my husband had been on his own,” Maureen says, “I probably would have gone off to bed saying I felt a bit tired, because I wasn’t desperately ill.

“I’d never have thought it could be my heart. I used to go for a walk every morning. I gave up smoking about 25 years ago, and I was never a very heavy smoker in any case. I don’t drink alcohol, I’m not overweight, and I have a healthy diet. No family history of heart problems either.”

Having mistaken her heart attack for indigestion, Maureen is now a little shy of indigestion pain.

“I think one of the things is the fear. That’s the hardest thing to overcome. It happened so fast, I often think could it happen again? I get a little touch of indigestion, and I think, ‘Is it or isn’t it?’

“I often wonder now, how long did I actually have a heart condition that I didn’t know about?”

Clinical support post-op

Maureen speaks highly of the cardiac rehabilitation course she completed over six weeks.

“I felt at the time it would be great if the cardiac rehab programme had been for a longer length of time because that was a great confidence-builder.

“Sometimes you need to be motivated. It’s quite handy to have a group meeting because you know you’ve committed to attending.

“The nurse was extremely good at explaining, answering questions, so there was really good support but then it sort of came to a standstill.”

Coming out the other side

Five months after her heart attack and cardiac arrest, Maureen’s husband became ill.

“It was quite a tough time but we’ve both come through. I’m feeling very positive now that we’ve both come out the other side.

“I feel as though I’m really lucky to be able to do all I can do. I’m extremely grateful to Sara-Anne because she was only 16 at the time and to actually perform CPR on me, it must have been terrible for her, really, really hard. It’s wonderful she knew what to do.

“The thing I’m the most grateful for is that I’ve got a good brain, no brain damage – and have had a second chance! I feel very grateful to our local fire service and the paramedics – they do a wonderful job! I certainly feel very blessed.”


Shared August 2017

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

Find similar stories

View all stories


  • Richard 27 August 2020

    Hi Maureen
    Just read your story - my wife performed CPR (chest compressions only) for 10 minutes and luckily I only had some minor brain injury which should improve over time. Im back at work 3 days a week. Glad my wife was also trained in CPR.
    Best wishes.

  • Jo 21 May 2018

    Hi Maureen,
    Thanks for sharing your story…it’s pretty similar to mine.  Doesn’t it make you feel incredibly grateful to have people in your life who know CPR!!! Xxx