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Army Volunteer helps to mend a broken heart on Valentine’s Day

On a cold February night, with the clock having just ticked past midnight welcoming in St Valentine’s Day 2021, an Army Colonel got the call to race to help someone in cardiac arrest.

Colonel Richard Collinge (53) is a member of a remarkable group of individuals drawn from all ranks, and all walks of service life, who sacrifice much of their well-earned down time to help others in need and support their communities.

Colonel Richard is one of the 160 armed forces personnel belonging to the Military Co-Responders, a group of medically trained volunteers who, when off duty, support the South-Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) by providing additional cover in rapid response cars.  The group are not MOD medics but are governed, trained and funded by the NHS.

“I was on duty and had just dropped a patient off at a hospital when, a couple of minutes after midnight, we got another call to attend someone who had gone into cardiac arrest. Arriving at the address we were the second crew on scene and so immediately began to support and assist.” Colonel Richard Collinge

Through Operation Rescript, the military’s response to the UK’s fight against the Coronavirus pandemic, about half of the Military Co-Responders have been mobilised, crewing emergency ambulances with SCAS paramedics, on a full-time basis.  Meanwhile those not mobilised have continued to provide voluntary car shifts, seeking to exceed the high amount of time they already volunteer, in response to the crisis. 

Setting the scene, Richard explained, “I was on duty and had just dropped a patient off at a hospital when, a couple of minutes after midnight, we got another call to attend someone who had gone into cardiac arrest. Arriving at the address we were the second crew on scene and so immediately began to support and assist.” 

There are four important stages in the so-called Survival Chain of a cardiac arrest: the first is to call professional medical help and the second is to start giving CPR chest compressions. Crucially the patient’s wife had been trained to do so (as have all Service Personnel with their Basic Life Support training) – it almost certainly saved his life. Each compression keeps the blood circulating, providing oxygen to the brain and heart tissue.

The next stage is early defibrillation, this takes the ineffective ‘fluttering’ heartbeat and, under control, shocks it back into a proper rhythm. Finally comes the administering of post resuscitation care, and it was this that Colonel Richard took over. “Once additional medical staff arrived, which in this case was a critical care paramedic who would normally be aboard a helicopter ambulance, I stepped back to allow them to work on the patient. I then turned my attentions to ensure the wife was managing to cope with the unfolding situation.

You have to be so mindful of the trauma being witnessed by loved ones and family, they can easily go into shock and become a second casualty. I ensured the patient’s wife, who had just saved his life, was attended to and reassured. Once stabilised we had to get the patient out of his house into the ambulance and to the waiting specialists in the hospital.

The whole incident lasted for around two hours and Colonel Richard emphasised the importance of the need to clear the scene of all the paraphernalia, packaging and by-products that accumulate during such a serious incident. “The sheer volume of general ‘stuff’ left afterwards is something the public doesn’t really comprehend and isn’t appreciated in any of the TV medical dramas.

There are situations when relatives have to return to their family home having lost a loved one; you can but imagine the impact of the first thing they see when they open the door is the discarded packaging and remnants of medical litter still left at the scene.”

Thankfully that was not to be the case on this occasion.  A few hours later Colonel Richard, whilst on another ‘shout’, found himself back at the same hospital where they had dropped off the patient and learnt that he had responded well to the cardiac specialists’ treatment and a successful outcome was expected.

When asked about his motivation to be a Military Co-Responder, Colonel Richard explained, “For me, I am driven by a sense of wanting to serve the community and I’d say that is true of all of us. Personally, I find it gives me a similar buzz to what I experienced; dare I say it a good few years ago, earlier in my Army career on military operations.

I am so in awe of the younger members of our team, what they do is both physically and mentally very challenging. It is true to say that a military background provides a degree of resilience, but these are amazingly impressive youngsters who epitomise the very core values of their Service.  They are utterly selfless and a great credit to the MOD." 

As the Military Co-Responders near the end of their full-time Op Rescript deployment with SCAS they have turned in some remarkable statistics providing over 4000 hours of support in which they have attended more than 2000 incidents including: serious COVID cases, road traffic accidents, heart attacks, drug overdoses, seizures, fits, falls and births! 

Summing up his time spent with the South-Central Ambulance Service, Colonel Richard said, “I believe we have been an energising force that has shown the hard-pressed NHS that they are truly appreciated and supported.  It has been a privilege to support SCAS and the skills we have learned will help us to deliver even better care to our communities, as we return to voluntary shifts.”