In August 2018 Dr Colm Costigan a consultant paediatric endocrinologist and his daughter Caoimhe Costigan who is also a doctor, set out for a bike ride in rural Tipperary, it was something the avid cyclists had done many times before and they never imagined the day would turn out like it did.
Caoimhe recalls that about twenty minutes into the ride that her dad Colm was beginning to lag behind. When she cycled back to him, he said he was suddenly feeling tired and couldn’t catch his breath however, he insisted they carry on with the cycle. They then came to a slight hill and Caoimhe noticed that her dad had dismounted and was walking with his bike. She said he looked very pale and she suggested phoning his wife Sheila to come and collect them.
Before she could phone Sheila however Caoimhe saw her dad had collapsed and wasn’t breathing. She had her phone in her hand, so she immediately called 999 and started CPR.
“I literally put my phone on speaker, put it on dad’s chest and rang 999. I just started doing CPR without thinking about it really, the man on the phone was very helpful I said to him that I was a doctor and that I was doing CPR.”
Caoimhe saw her dad had collapsed and wasn’t breathing. She had her phone in her hand, so she immediately called 999 and started CPR.
Asked by the ambulance service where they were, Caoimhe said she had no idea and tried to look around for road signs or any clues that would help the ambulance find them. She then noticed that they were in a laneway of a house and she knew desperately needed to get help while also maintaining CPR.
“It was hard to know what to do. I didn’t want to stop CPR. I was doing both CPR and breaths. The door was probably 6 or 7 metres away so, I worked out that if I did my compressions, I could reach the door and be back on chest within about 5 seconds, so not really break the CPR. When I opened the door and shouted in a whole pile of dogs came out barking, followed by an elderly lady. I said to her take the phone and tell the ambulance dispatcher where we are,” she said.
Six shocks from the defibrillator
Caoimhe, who at this stage was desperately worried about her dad and described having an out of body experience as she was delivering CPR, said she just kept trying to remember her cardiac training and the stories of others who had survived a cardiac arrest with good quality CPR.
It was to be a full 22 minutes before the gardai arrived on the scene followed by paramedics, fire brigades and an army air ambulance.
At that stage Caoimhe was able to step back and allow the ambulance crew to take over and crucially they also had a defibrillator.
“It went on for quite a long time. Finally, after the 3rd or maybe the 4th shock from the defibrillator, I heard one of the guys shout that he had a pulse. He had another shock in the helicopter on the way to Limerick, then twice more in the emergency department. So at least 6 shocks in total.”
In total Caoimhe reckons that her father was unconscious for 90 minutes “I called the ambulance on my phone at 3.45pm and he wasn’t in Limerick until almost 5.30pm”, she said.
The father and daughter were airlifted to Limerick University Hospital where Colm had an emergency stent placed in his heart. What followed was weeks and months of recovery for Colm which included; nine days in University Hospital Limerick where he was on a ventilator, then over two months in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, where he had to undergo dialysis as his kidneys had failed due to a lack of oxygen because of the cardiac arrest.
In total Caoimhe reckons that her father was unconscious for 90 minutes
My legs weren’t working
The first thing Colm said he remembers is waking up in the High Dependency Unit in the Mater. He has no recollection of his time in Limerick or in the ICU in the Mater. Always a doctor, the first thing he did when he came around was to ask for his blood results which was a sign that he had not suffered any cognitive impairment. However, he did notice that his legs weren’t working.
“My legs weren’t working ….obviously during all that resuscitation the blood supply to my spinal cord was low, so I got patchy damage to my spinal cord,” Colm said.
Colm had suffered what is known as a Spinal artery infarction; a very rare side effect of his cardiac arrest caused by the fact that his spinal cord was starved of oxygen.
After months in the Mater, including weeks of dialysis, Colm was then transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) in Dunlaoghaire, where he spent 12 weeks as an inpatient doing an intensive rehabilitation programme.
Today Colm is back at work in Temple St Children’s Hospital where Caoimhe is also currently working as part of her own paediatric training.
While he currently uses a wheelchair, Colm said the power was slowly returning to his legs and he can now stand and walk around his car for example, which is wonderful progress.
“It wasn’t that I was a doctor, it was because I knew CPR. Other than doing CPR there literally was nothing else I could have done, ”
Grateful and proud
Colm said he was enormously grateful to all the support he has received from his family and his wife Sheila and he also paid huge credit to the wonderful medical staff he encountered on his long road to recovery; from the paramedics to the staff in Limerick, the Mater and the NRH”.
“I was well looked after throughout my journey through the medical system from the beginning right through to the end at the NRH…people certainly provided us with very good quality care all the way along,” Colm said.
Colm is incredibly proud of his daughter who saved his life and she in turn is hugely proud of her dad for the steely determination and hard work he has shown throughout his rehabilitation.
“We are very proud of him because he certainly has come a long way from where he was that day in August 2018.”
It wasn’t that I was a doctor, it was because I knew CPR
Both Colm and Caoimhe said they would encourage everybody to learn how to do CPR and become a lifesaver. And although Caoimhe happened to be a doctor she said she “didn’t do any doctoring” at the side of the road when she saved her dad’s life, as all she had was her two hands.
“It wasn’t that I was a doctor, it was because I knew CPR. Other than doing CPR there literally was nothing else I could have done, ” Caoimhe said.