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Donavan, left, with Sarah and Mark Walke

Every year, more than 25,000 Australians die from sudden cardiac arrest. Here, Sydney woman Sarah Casey tells how her sudden cardiac arrest led her husband to develop the world’s smallest automated personal defibrillator (it can fit into your handbag) to save lives.

When I suffered a sudden cardiac arrest at the age of 39, it wasn’t the first time my family was impacted by the world’s biggest cause of premature death.

I had just turned 19 when my grandmother, Ita Starkey - Nanna as I called her, died in my arms, in the restroom of a country railway station.

We arrived at the station as my grandmother started feeling unwell and confused so I went into the bathroom with her when she passed out on top of me. I immediately panicked, then froze before yelling for help.

The paramedics were unable to revive her.

I felt very guilty after Nanna passed because I felt I had let her down as well as my mother, aunt and uncle. I felt I let myself down by not remaining calm and taking action and performing CPR.

I don’t feel as guilty many years later as I didn’t have the reinforced training, the confidence and the tools to help her. I had learned CPR at school but was not empowered to believe that CPR and defibrillation in the moments following cardiac arrest can make a difference to survival rates.

I was 39 years old when I had my sudden cardiac arrest.

The first stroke of luck was that my partner, Donovan, was right next to me when it happened. He was able to overcome the panic of seeing me struggling to breathe, and call Triple 0 for help.

The second stroke of luck was that there was already an ambulance just around the corner, and another two nearby. They all responded.

It took a team of paramedics over 30 minutes of them taking turns performing CPR to get a shockable rhythm, and revive me.

If those ambulances hadn’t been so close, the outcome could have certainly been different. It’s really hard to do CPR, especially on your own. There is very little opportunity to stop and look for an AED (automated external defibrillator) if it is not very close by.

I was in a coma for two weeks. While in a coma, the ICU doctors were not confident about my full recovery.

Donovan didn’t believe them. He kept fighting for me and remained positive and slowly, I started to come good again.

I was in rehab for six weeks; I had to learn to walk again and it took some time before I was able to make memories. Even now, there is damage to my heart muscle. I don’t respond well to exertion, or stress.

When I was eventually allowed to return home, we were amazed I had survived.

Upon researching what had happened to me, I was shocked that the sudden cardiac arrest survival rate was so low.

That was when we learned about AEDs, and why having one nearby is so important. The best chances of survival are when an AED is used within the first few minutes of a sudden cardiac arrest.

For an AED to be useful, it needs to be in the home.

As someone with Type I Diabetes, the risk of me experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest was always higher than average.

I knew I was high risk. But I still didn’t think about getting an AED. I didn’t have any heart issues, and I was really young.

In retrospect, you would think I’d be more aware, and would be the first to get an AED.

I was extremely lucky to survive. Most people aren’t as lucky as I was as they don’t receive help in time.

Donovan set himself a task of finding a way to get AEDs into homes after we realised that even a sophisticated health system like Australia’s couldn’t solve it.

We have since learned of the many studies into government funding of AEDs for the households of people at risk. They all say the same thing – yes, AEDs can be effective at improving chances of surviving sudden cardiac arrest, but no, the cost-benefit analysis of funding AEDs for every at-risk household does not stack up.

CellAED, a personal defbrillator

To change this situation, we knew we needed to make AEDs much more affordable and easy to use.

Fast-forward to today, and Donovan and his team have invented CellAED , a hand held personal defibrillator.

An AED isn’t something you typically buy for yourself. It’s something you acquire for someone else, to save someone you love.

We know how lucky we are that I survived. Too many aren’t so lucky.

For anyone who is worried something like this could happen to someone they love, here is my advice.

Learn how to do CPR, and how to recognise the signs of sudden cardiac arrest. Then, share that knowledge with the people around you.

These are the first critical steps towards being ready to help someone survive a sudden cardiac arrest.

I’m alive today because Donovan did that for me.

About: The CellAED weighs only 300 grams and can be applied in seconds with its simple snap, peel, stick technology and is priced from $359, versus corporate or hospital-use defibrillators that weigh a kilo and cost upwards of $2,00. Find out more abut CellAED here.



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