Quick-thinking bystanders save man’s life at Wollongong

A teenage boy has put the first aid training he received participating in a RISEUP program at the Police Citizens Youth Club to good use, saving the life of a man who suffered a cardiac arrest on a football field.

Nate West, aged 17, was volunteering at Wollongong Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC) on Saturday 6 March 2021when he was alerted to a man suffering a medical episode.

Paul Gaffney, aged 43, had been playing football for his local club, the Gerringong Lions, when he started to experience chest pain and collapsed on the field.

Nate and a co-worker, Brandi, went his aid – taking a nearby defibrillator – and started CPR before defibrillator electrode pads were attached to Paul’s chest and administered a shock to restart his heart. NSW Ambulance paramedics arrived within 10 minutes and conveyed Paul to Wollongong Hospital where he recovered.

If the defibrillator hadn’t been accessible at the PCYC, the outcome might not have been so positive for Paul – who was confirmed to have had a verified cardiac arrest on the football field.

Now, the Michael Hughes Foundation (MHF), together with ZOLL Medical’s ‘Heroes for Life’ program, is donating a brand-new defibrillator to PCYC. The donation is part of the charity’s ongoing mission to raise awareness about the importance of first aid delivered to patients in the first few minutes after a heart-related medical episode.

“Time is critical in the case of a sudden, cardiac arrest,” explains Kevin McSweeney, paramedic and Chair of the Michael Hughes Foundation.

“When the heart suddenly stops beating, survival can hinge on the immediate actions of bystanders. CPR that is started within the first five minutes is crucial and any person at the scene, no matter if they have first aid training or not, can make a difference to that person’s chance of survival.”

For Nate, the first aid training he received at his local PCYC by participating in job-ready, Fit For Service and Blue Star programs was literally, lifesaving.

These programs are offered through the NSW Police Commissioner’s RISEUP Strategy, where young people can build commitment, resilience and motivation. They can also receive vital first-aid training through the Michael Hughes Foundation who are the preferred trainers at PCYCs.

“The goal of RISEUP is to offer young people mentoring and training and keep them engaged with education, the community or workplace opportunities,” said Superintendent Mark Wall, Commander Youth Command.

“Nate’s quick-thinking actions on the field that day is testament to the success we’re seeing in the program where our engagement with youth is not only life-changing but can save someone’s life.”

Nate has been an active member of the PCYC community and received the Young Person of the Quarter Award for PCYC NSW in December last year.

“You don’t often think you’re going to be faced with a medical emergency, but when you are, it definitely helps to know what to do,” Nate said.

“I was lucky enough to receive life-saving training through the courses I took at PCYC and I remembered to keep a cool head, but really, anyone can save a life, you just need to act quick.”

PCYC NSW CEO, Dominic Teakle, said he was proud to see Nate put the skills he has learnt after participating in RISEUP to good use.

“The first aid rendered before emergency responders attend a scene can be the difference between life or death for a person suffering a medical episode. We want PCYCs to provide a safe space for everyone and that is why we incorporate first aid training into our ‘Fit For’ and PCYC offerings,” said Mr Teakle.

“While we never want to have to use a defibrillator, it’s certainly good knowing that our PCYCs have the resource available to save another life if we’re ever faced with that situation again.”

Mr McSweeney will continue to transfer lifesaving skills to young people so they know what to do in these situations.

“The mission of the Michael Hughes Foundation is to turn bystanders into first responders when they are faced with a medical emergency. Basic first aid training, including CPR and defibrillator use, can equip bystanders with the skills needed to assist a person before an ambulance arrives,” said Mr McSweeney.

“It’s a relief that Nate had his first aid training and was there that day to assist Paul, but the truth is, anyone should feel like they can help in a medical emergency. Defibrillators are actually designed to be used by the general public without prior training or qualifications.”

About the Michael Hughes Foundation

The Michael Hughes Foundation (MHF) is a registered Australian charity that operates as a social enterprise, selling products and services to support the Foundation’s advocacy, community engagement and charitable activities. The Foundation exists to support change in the response to cardiac arrest when it occurs outside of the hospital, with a strong mission to Turn Bystanders into First Responders in medical emergencies. Everything we do as an organization underpins this mission statement.

About RISEUP

The NSW Police Commissioner’s RISEUP Strategy was launched on Wednesday 8 August 2018 to connect disengaged young people to workplace opportunities. RISEUP incorporates job ready programs, mentoring and vocational training for youth to build their engagement with education, employment opportunities and the community. It is facilitated by the NSW Police Force and PCYC NSW. The eight programs are: Fit For Life; Fit For Work; Fit For Change; Fit For Home; Fit To Strive; Fit To Learn; Fit Together; and Fit For Service.

The primary focus is to return young people into the education system. For some youth, they receive assistance to facilitate them into employment. The foundations of the initiative focus on early intervention to prevent and disrupt crime. The aim is for young people to be either learning, training or working to ultimately, achieve positive outcomes.

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