Sooner or later, all of us would need St John


It costs little to give but save a lot of lives

Jennifer Porter

When 58-year-old Mt Roskill resident Suresh Bhana suddenly had shortness of breath and tightness of chest while walking to his car after work, he thought his asthma was playing up.

As he drove from Beaumont Street to Grafton, the pain worsened, causing him to stop and call 111.

An ambulance arrived quickly, with St John ambulance officers Anne Robinson and George Tyrell attending and transporting Suresh to nearby Auckland Hospital.

As they took Suresh on a stretcher into hospital, he cardiac arrested.

Shock after shock

George and Anne acted quickly by shocking him with a defibrillator and starting chest compressions.

“He went into arrest very fast and we both responded immediately,” said Anne.  Suresh needed four more shocks in hospital.

Over a month after the incident, which included a week’s stay in hospital and having a stent inserted, Suresh regrets trying to drive to the hospital himself and instead wishes he rang St John earlier.

“I thought it was asthma and didn’t realise how serious it was,” Suresh said and added, “I had had a heart check-up less than a year earlier and I didn’t recognise the warning signs of a cardiac arrest.”

Supporting St John

Having used St John previously due to his asthma, Suresh had recently signed up as a supporter through the St John Team Green Programme, which means he supports the frontline ambulance services through a monthly donation.

After starting back at work for Air New Zealand, Suresh had an opportunity to meet Anne and George and thank them for their assistance.

“My family and I really appreciate what you both did. I’m pretty much here today because of your care,” Suresh told them.

‘Regular Giving’

Northern Region Fundraising & Marketing Manager Hannah Davies said, “It is wonderful to know Suresh is doing well, and we are grateful for the help he provides as a Team Green supporter. Team Green is our ‘regular giving’ programme, which enables people like Suresh to be on the same team as our ambulance officers and provide the financial support they need.

“Team Green donors are critical to our work here at St John. Without them, we simply wouldn’t be able to help as many people as we do. They are part of the team that makes our lifesaving work possible,” Hannah said.

Team Green donations deliver critical support to St John, including ongoing training and support for ambulance officers, and essential vehicle resources and equipment.  To sign up, visit

Striking death

Suresh is one of the lucky ones.  Approximately 1500 people die following cardiac arrest every year in New Zealand – a number five times higher than the national road toll.

St John Medical Director Tony Smith said, “Death from cardiac arrest is our ‘silent toll’.  It can happen to anyone of any age, including children. We remain focused on reducing this toll, but we can’t do it alone. We need all New Zealanders to help by knowing how to do CPR and use a defibrillator (or AED).”

AEDs shock the heart back into rhythm and are essential in the ‘chain of survival’ for somebody suffering cardiac arrest.

High Priority

A cardiac arrest is allocated the highest response priority by St John, and the closest responder is immediately dispatched but bystanders need to initiate the ‘chain of survival’ with immediate recognition, early CPR and rapid defibrillation.

“For every minute without CPR or defibrillation, a patient’s chance of survival falls by 10%-15%,” Dr Smith said.

The defibrillators talk users through the process, making them accessible to all, but New Zealand’s low rate of public access to defibrillators remains an issue.  While 60% of patients had bystander CPR performed, only 6% of patients were defibrillated using a public access AED.

Key St John partner ASB installed AEDs throughout their branches nationwide in 2015 and Z Energy completed a similar initiative in 2016.

People can find their nearest defibrillator on the AED locator website or by downloading the mobile app, while information about First Aid courses is on the St John website, along with a CPR app.

High survival rate

The latest St John ‘Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest’ report confirmed that the ambulance service maintains a strong 16% survival rate for patients who are treated for cardiac arrest.

In 2016, St John introduced its ‘3-Steps for Life’ Community Programme, which trains people to take three key actions when someone has a cardiac arrest.

Photo :

Suresh Bhana (centre) with Ambulance Officers Anne Robinson and George Tyrell

(Photo supplied)

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