Man's heart restarts when ambulance hits pothole

10 Jul 2013

A grandfather has told how Britain's crumbling roads saved his life after an ambulance rushing him to hospital hit a pothole - and the jolt restarted his heart.

Ray Lee, 65, was exercising on a cross-trainer at home when his heart rate rocketed to a life-threatening 190 beats per minute. The retired operations manager had a crippling pain in his chest and was helped to his bedroom by wife Christine, 66, where he laid down on the bed.

But when his heart rate remained sky-high after an hour, she called an ambulance which arrived at their home in Wilton, Wilts, in four minutes. Paramedics placed him on a stretcher and set off on the five mile journey to Salisbury District Hospital under blue lights and siren.

On arrival, medics planned to give him an injection to stop his heart before restarting it with a shock. But as the ambulance raced along Netherhampton Road - just a few minutes from his home - it nose dived into a pothole. And the impact was so great Mr Lee's heart rate suddenly dropped back to a healthy 60 beats per minute.

The maximum safe heart rate for somebody of Mr Lee's age is 155 beats per minute.

(Ray Lee)

Mr Lee and Mrs Lee regularly drive along the same road in their Honda Jazz and have previously cursed the state of the road.

He said it has numerous potholes, some of which are 2ft wide and a couple of inches deep. It is not known which pothole the ambulance hit as it travelled the mixed 30mph / national speed limit road at "high speed", shortly after 6pm.

Mr Lee said: "I was at home exercising on my cross trainer and listening to the radio, which I have done around four times a week for several months.

"I usually workout for around half-an-hour each time, but after 12 minutes I got a pain in my chest, my heart rate shot up, and I had trouble breathing. I gripped the sensors to check my heart rate and it said 190 beats per minute, which is well above my resting rate of low 60s.

I got my wife to help me into the bedroom, where I laid down on the bed. After an hour my heart rate had not dropped off, so she rang the doctor who told her to call an ambulance immediately.

"The paramedics gave me an injection and strapped me to an ECG machine, which showed my heart rate was 186 bpm.

"Christine got in the front of the ambulance and I was placed in the back on a stretcher, where I was connected to a heart rate monitor.

"She was extremely worried and upset, I was in pain but had no idea what was wrong and was trying to remain calm.

"We raced along the roads at high speed, with a medic standing in the back, leaning over me as we went.

"All of a sudden, there was a massive bang as we smacked into a pothole and the whole ambulance jolted.

"Everyone on board jumped and I was lifted off the stretcher, before falling back into place.

"After a few seconds I readjusted myself, settled back down, and looked over at the monitor to see my heart rate had plummeted to 60 bpm.

"The paramedic looked at me in a state of disbelief but nobody said anything because we were so focused on getting to hospital."

When the ambulance arrived, the crew explained to Mr and Mrs Lee and the hospital staff what had happened.

He was still in pain, and was given morphine, but doctors revealed the jolt had saved him having to undergo the planned procedure.

Mr Lee added: "I felt a bit of a fraud by the time I got to A and E because my heart rhythm was normal.

"I was told they would have carried out a procedure to stop the spasm in my heart, but driving over the pothole did the trick.

"I'd been cursing the council for months about the state of the roads because I spend my life dodging potholes in my Honda Jazz.

"But now I never want them to fill in another pothole again.

"I can't say the pothole alone saved me - the wonderful paramedics and doctors did that - but bumping over it did make things easier.

"Without the appalling condition of Wiltshire Council's roads I might not have had such an easy time.

"I guess there are some potholes that ruin your car and others that save your life."

The grandfather-of-three was told he was suffering a suspected ventricular arrhythmia, possibly as a result of a heart attack he had 21 years ago.

It means the heart had created a form of electrical short circuit, which prevented it from beating as it should.

Mr Lee spent three days in hospital, is now undergoing tests, and has been told to take it easy.

But he says he feels well and is thanking his "pot luck".

Friends and family are now raising money to help buy a new CAT scanner for Salisbury District Hospital.

A spokesman for South Western Ambulance Service said: "We can confirm we were carrying a patient to hospital with a heart condition when the ambulance hit a pothole.

"The patient's heart rate subsequently fell."

A Wiltshire Council spokesperson said: "We are really pleased to hear Mr Lee is recovering well."

PHOTOS BY: Salisbury Journal / Solent News / Rex Features

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