Fireman David Ridgard (49) from Kilnagrange, Kilmacthomas was airlifted from Waterford to Cork during the August Bank Holiday Weekend.
On Sunday morning August 6th, he awoke at 6am with a slight pain in his chest which he didn’t think was too serious.
However, his condition quickly deteriorated.
Although he first dialled 999 at approximately 6.15am, David had to wait for more than five hours before he could receive the necessary procedure to save his life –despite residing less than half an hour from University Hospital Waterford (UHW).
When David phoned 999 he said he was a trained First Responder and that he was experiencing signs of a heart attack.
After arriving at around 7am, paramedics carried out initial checks on David.
A decision was made to bring him to UHW – despite lifesaving cardiac services not being available at weekends.
“I said ‘I know the symptoms, we should be going to Cork’,” said David.
“If we had left for Cork then, I could have been down there by 8.30am.”
However, it would be 11.30am before David finally had two stents fitted at Cork University Hospital (CUH).
Despite his pleas, he was brought to UHW and arrived at 7.45am
Despite being in excruciating pain, he was asked to sign a disclaimer form before receiving thrombolytic treatment (clot busting drugs).
“I couldn’t even see the form without my glasses,” he explained.
“Because I couldn’t read it, they had to read it out to me. They read out the side effects of the thrombolysis. I said ‘I don’t care, I’m dying, just give it to me’.”
Remarkably, David was then told he had signed in the wrong place and was asked to sign again.
“If I was unconscious what would have happened? Or if there was someone who didn’t have anyone to provide a signature for them, what would happened?” he said.
His concerned wife Helen was waiting outside with David’s brother Noel.
They were told that David was being seen to and that something irregular was showing up.
As David’s brother-in-law John Tobin from Tramore had suffered a heart attack in September 2015 and was brought by ambulance from his home in Fieldstone to CUH, the family are all too familiar with the lack of 24/7 cardiac cover at UHW.
“Noel asked why David wasn’t brought to Cork straight away and they said that he was brought to Waterford as it didn’t show up as a heart attack on their machine when they did the first check,” explained Helen.
“While all this time was being wasted on deciding whether it was a heart attack or not, the damage was being caused to his heart.”
It was almost 9am before the thrombolytic treatment was administered and then a decision was made to transfer David to Cork.
A distraught Helen was told her husband would be airlifted to Cork.
“The first thing that came into my head was ‘is this going to be another story similar to that of Thomas Power?’ That was the level of panic I felt and you shouldn’t have to think like that.”
The family say it then took an hour to arrange for David to go to Cork, meaning he didn’t leave UHW until approximately 9.55am.
“I asked ‘if he’s supposed to be going to Cork why isn’t he gone?’” explained Helen.
“There was all this bureaucracy going on to see if they had this paper and that paper.”
David was then brought to Waterford Airport by an ambulance to board Rescue 117 for the 30 minute journey to Cork.
“We couldn’t land at CUH as the helipad is too small for rescue helicopters,” he explained.
Rescue 117 landed at Cork Airport and David was transferred to CUH.
“I was in such shock,” said Helen, who followed from Waterford by car.
“The main thing on my mind was ‘will he be alive when I get there?’”
After arriving at CUH, she immediately made her way to the cardiac department.
“There was nobody at the reception there, it was empty,” she explained.
“A security man asked me if I was lost. He went off and said somebody would be with us, but we were left there.”
She continued: “I kept thinking ‘is David alive or isn’t he?’ I went behind reception myself, picked up the phone and rang the switchboard and said ‘I’m here in an empty area, nobody is telling me whether my husband is alive or dead’. A woman came out eventually and said ‘we’re working on him’. Then the consultant came out and said David had a major heart attack and that his heart is now like somebody has had a baseball bat to it but he’s ok and has had two stents fitted.”
When Helen was allowed in to see David, he was sitting up in bed with a cup of tea – a stark contrast from the last time she had seen him in Waterford when he was screaming in pain.
“It struck me that it was such a simple procedure – and a simple procedure that could have saved Thomas Power’s life. I couldn’t get over it,” she said.
David also said he couldn’t believe how simple the procedure was.
“It was all done in around 20-30 minutes and that saved my life,” he said.
Staff in CUH told David he was “lucky to be alive”.
“They kept telling him ‘we don’t know how you’re alive, you should be dead’,” said Helen.
“It’s absolutely horrendous to think that we could have been going through the funeral process last week.”
She said staff members at CUH are very sympathetic to people from Waterford and the South-East who must endure the current lack of cardiac cover at UHW.
“They said that something is going to have to be done about it as it’s not fair,” said Helen.
“It was a good result for us, but what about next weekend when this happens to somebody else’s family? We had to go through all of this for a procedure that takes half an hour and a procedure that should have been available in Waterford.”
David says that if something was to happen again he would have “no confidence” in the current system which is in place.
The Ridgards have highlighted a plethora of issues which arose during their ordeal, including that local Cardiac First Responders were not notified of the incident when the 999 call was made.
David also pointed out that eight fully trained retained firefighters reside in and around Kilmacthomas and could have been deployed to use their First Responder skills.
The couple’s son Bill (16), who was liaising over the phone while waiting for an ambulance to arrive for his father, discovered that the ambulance travelled on a road in the wrong direction for a period after reaching Kilmacthomas.
While praising the crew which travelled with him to Cork, David pointed out that while Rescue 117 was being deployed to Cork it was unavailable for any incident which may have occurred at sea for example.
The initial dependence by paramedics on a machine to determine if David had suffered a heart attack has also been highlighted by the Ridgards.
“I’m a First Responder and I knew I was suffering a heart attack as I had the symptoms but their machine didn’t show it,” said David.
“And why was a person from Kilmac brought in the opposite direction to Cork, knowing that services were not available in Waterford at that time?” added Helen.
They say the full service should have been available at UHW in the first place and say it must now be made available on a 24/7 basis.