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Quick-thinking son saves dad after high-speed cardiac arrest

May 18, 2023 | in News

All 61-year-old Douglas Butler remembers about the 28th February this year is stopping to purchase an iced coffee while driving his son Chais to work on the Hume Freeway near the Victorian border.

The father-and-son duo were talking about the day ahead in Wodonga as they travelled at 110km per hour along the busy freeway, no different to the rest of the surrounding peak hour traffic.  

Without warning, Douglas swore and lost control of the wheel, collapsing onto his 22-year-old son on the passenger side of the four-wheel-drive.

Truck driver Kevin Williams was driving his three-tonne vehicle behind the pair when he noticed the trailer start to swerve and almost hit the guard rail.  

“I thought ‘what is going on here’ so I put on my flashing lights, pulled up behind the car and this young fella jumps around the back and says to me: ‘My dad’s dead’,” he said.

“In hindsight I now know that this kid hasn’t even got his driver’s license yet, but he’s had the awareness to get on the brake somehow and stall the car travelling at that speed.

“He’s prevented a head-on collision. It’s unbelievable.”

Douglas and his son Chais thanked the paramedics for providing medical assistance
next to a busy freeway traffic.

Chais dragged Douglas out of the car and onto the gravel of the emergency lane of the freeway. With the only barrier from oncoming traffic being the white painted line, Kevin told Chais to call Triple Zero (000) as he launched into CPR.

“I just saw the young bloke next to his Dad and thought: ‘Nope. This guy’s not dying on my watch’,” Kevin said.

“I think it would have been about 90 seconds from his cardiac arrest to when I started CPR. I did compressions for about 12 minutes until the paramedics put the AED on him, but it felt like three hours.”

Incredibly, the only other motorist who saw the emergency and pulled over to help was Leanne Wegener—a nurse of 45 years who was on her way to work on the opposite side of the freeway.

“I happened to look over and I knew by the movements that someone was doing CPR,” Leanne said.

“Kevin’s CPR was excellent. He’s a very strong man and it was effective.”

Douglas thanked Kevin for performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and
compressions on him until the paramedics arrived.

Paramedics and Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) arrived at the scene, with Ambulance Victoria Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance (MICA) paramedic Travis Jones, Wodonga Advanced Life Support (ALS) paramedic Ash Pryse and Graduate Ambulance Paramedic (GAP) Mark Weir arriving within minutes.

Mark, who recently became a graduate paramedic after enjoying working as an Ambulance Community Officer (ACO) for many years, said it was a challenging scene right next to freeway traffic, but they were able to treat Douglas with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

“Douglas is extremely lucky. His cardiac arrest was witnessed early, Triple Zero has been called quickly and there’s been extremely effective CPR and the use of an AED,” Mark said.

“All the boxes of chain of survival were ticked and we did everything we could, but he gave us no response and he ended up arresting twice.

“When he went into ICU later, we checked on him and the doctors told us: ‘He’s up and about in the ward’, honestly, we nearly fell over.”

Leanne suggested Douglas be sent to the local Cath lab at Albury Wodonga Health (AWH).

With the local Cath lab available, paramedics transported Douglas to AWH a short drive away, instead of airlifting him to Melbourne. As they arrived at the hospital, Douglas went into cardiac arrest for a second time.

Leanne, a nurse of 45 years, was on the opposite side of the freeway driving to work when she saw what happened and pulled over to help.

A few days later, Leanne was walking through the hospital for work when she ran into Chais who dragged her into the ICU to meet Douglas, who had since undergone emergency heart surgery.

“I could not believe it. People don’t usually survive out of hospital cardiac arrests. It’s amazing,” she said.

“I told Douglas: “You do realise what a unicorn you are.”

Chais described his dad’s event as “the best possible outcome of the worst situation.”

“I’m just thankful he’s okay. I’m really lucky Kevin pulled over when he did and the ambulance arrived really quickly,” Chais said.

Douglas has since returned to work as a beef farmer and carpenter and has regular health checks with specialists who have found no permanent damage from his cardiac arrests.

“To hear that I was down, not breathing for 27 minutes, and here I am,” Douglas said.

“It certainly has changed how I look at my life now. I don’t let things like work get to me anymore. I’ve realised that life is too short, and you have to hang on to what you have.”

Douglas said he couldn’t speak highly enough of everyone who helped save his life that day.

“The way Chais kept his cool, I knew he would have been stressed out thinking ‘Dad’s died sitting beside me’, but getting onto the phone quickly to Triple Zero, I’m just so proud,” he said.

“The people who stopped to help are absolutely amazing, they are heroes. They kept the blood flowing to my brain and kept my heart pumping.

“It’s important that everyone know how to perform CPR, because if no one had tried when I was on the side of the road I wouldn’t be here.”

At an event held recently, Douglas was able to meet and thank the first responders who helped save his life as well as bystanders at a reunion event held at Ambulance Victoria’s West Wodonga Branch.

Ambulance Victoria awarded the bystanders with commendations for their incredible bravery in helping to save Douglas’ life.

You don’t need to be a paramedic to be a life saver, you just have to be willing to give hands-only CPR. Anyone who is over 18, is familiar with CPR and has a smartphone can download the free GoodSAM app.