Life or death: Mission to fetch defibrillator saves Cantabrian's life

Michael Oakley (left) retrieved the Hororata community defibrillator from the township’s garage,...
Michael Oakley (left) retrieved the Hororata community defibrillator from the township’s garage, just in time to revive Tony Scarlett, pictured with wife Jean. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Canterbury man Michael Oakley was given perhaps the most important instruction of his life recently, when he was told to go and fetch the community defibrillator.

Melissa Scarlett gave him the directive, as she was performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on her father Tony Scarlett at the family’s Hororata farm.

“It was: ‘S**t, I think I know where the defibrillator is,’ but I’m not sure,” Oakley said.

That was his thought as he ran and jumped into his car and drove towards the township.

He ultimately succeeded in the challenge, resulting in the survival of 69-year-old Tony, who had been working on the family farm when he had a cardiac arrest and collapsed.

Michael Oakley and Tony Scarlett. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Michael Oakley and Tony Scarlett. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Oakley is now urging anyone who does not know where their local community’s defibrillator is located to find out.

The life or death story began 1.48pm on July 20. That was the time that Oakley got a call from a friend, who had just been talking to Tony on the phone.          

The friend told him Tony was driving a tractor and not feeling good, and asked him to go and check on him. The friend also phoned emergency services, however, was not able to give them the exact address.

Oakley drove about 4km to his neighbour’s farm. He headed to a rear paddock after spotting a tractor there, and came upon Melissa, who was with her 11-year-old son Leithan, undertaking CPR on her father in a dairy lane. He parked as close as he could and ran towards the scene, but only got within about 20m before Melissa gave him the instruction to go and get the defibrillator.

Oakley said as he drove away, he thought the defibrillator would either be at the town garage, school or fire station. He phoned his wife, Kate, to ask her to phone someone else to find out. About three minutes after leaving the farm, he was pulling up at the garage, GAS Hororata, when Kate phoned back to say it was  there.

Garage manager Margaret Cross threw him the key, he got the defibrillator and raced back to the farm. He arrived back at the scene to see one of the farm’s workers, Anthony Sayer, who is also a Hororata firefighter, having taken over CPR.

Tony Scarlett (right) and Michael Oakley are grateful for the community defibrillator was located...
Tony Scarlett (right) and Michael Oakley are grateful for the community defibrillator was located nearby at GAS Hororata. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Oakley and Melissa applied the defibrillator pads to Tony, and followed the machine’s audio instructions, delivering shocks.

“It was two, maybe three goes before we got his heart to start again, he started to breathe,” Oakley said.

“He’s a lucky man.”

Five to six minutes after Oakley arrived at the scene with the defibrillator, the Hororata Volunteer Fire Brigade arrived. About 10 minutes later, St John ambulance services arrived, followed by the rescue helicopter.

Oakley urged people to find out where their local defibrillators were, or even download the AED Locations app which has this information.

Tony is making a good recovery at home after being discharged from hospital on Friday.

He and wife Jean also credit the defibrillator with saving his life.

Hororata's community defibrillator next to GAS Hororata. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Hororata's community defibrillator next to GAS Hororata. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Tony said the last thing he remembered before waking up in hospital a few days after he collapsed on the farm, was talking to his wife Jean on the phone to tell her he did not feel well. He had phoned Jean after getting out of the tractor where he had just made the call to the friend who alerted Oakley.

“It’s absolutely amazing that they have got these defibrillators around the community, I didn’t even know that they had one there actually,” Tony said.

Jean said the call for help from her husband came to the landline, at their home in Greenpark. It was fortunate she was right by the phone at that time, doing bookwork. She stayed on the line as she used her cellphone to call daughter Melissa, and then emergency services.

“I was yelling at him: ‘Keep breathing, keep breathing’,” Jean said.

She then heard the rescue scene unfolding as she stayed on the landline, including Melissa and Leithan dragging Tony to the dairy raceway and then Melissa giving her son instructions to hold up his granfather’s legs to keep the circulation going around his heart.

The community defibrillator instructions. Photo: Geoff Sloan
The community defibrillator instructions. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Their son-in-law Deane Parker said he was proud of his wife Melissa and his two sons for the role they played.

Leithan’s younger brother Eddy, 7, rode his bicycle to the cow shed to meet emergency services and tell them where to go.

“It was quite the family affair,” Parker said.

Jean thanked “divine providence” for people coincidentally being in the right place at the right time to take the crucial phone calls made that day.

It was the second heart attack her husband had survived, the last one about 15 years ago.

“The cardiologist said to us: ‘You have a 10 per cent of surviving a cardiac arrest outside of hospital.’ He said: ‘You have survived two cardiac arrests outside of hospital, there are no statistics’,” Jean said.


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