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Community Connections

A life saved: an extraordinary morning for two of Canberra’s own

When one of the regulars at the Belconnen café where she worked collapsed from a massive cardiac arrest, Marisa Agostino had a single moment of panic.

“And then I realised that I’ve trained for this, and I should just calm down and get on with it,” said the unassuming second-year Nursing student at the University of Canberra.

Marisa sprang into action – and cardiac arrest survivor Bill Murray will forever be grateful for her quick thinking and calm, efficient response.

“I’m completely indebted to her – I keep saying that if this had to happen, it couldn’t have happened at a better time or place, with people who were trained for emergencies around me!” Bill said.

It had been a typical winter weekend morning in Canberra, sunshine chasing the early morning frost and breakfast on everyone’s minds. Bill and his friends from a local cycling group had met at their usual coffee spot.

Just a regular day – until it wasn’t.

From her spot behind the counter, Marisa heard a loud thud.

She ran outside to find that Bill had fallen backwards – still in his chair – onto the sidewalk. He was unresponsive, and frothing at the mouth.

Marisa started CPR immediately, together with Ian, one of the Bill’s group of friends. “We alternated doing the breathing and chest compressions, for about 15 minutes,” she said.

When the paramedics got there, they had Marisa explain what had happened, and the steps she and Ian had taken. Bill had suffered a serious cardiac arrest, and had to be defibrillated several times.

“I have no memory of that day – or indeed, the day before – but I was told that Marisa also gently took charge to keep everyone calm,” Bill said.

“I’ve never been in that situation before – the person that everyone was relying on in that moment,” Marisa said. She credits her training with enabling her to not only perform CPR, but to keep herself and others calm.

“Our training teaches us how to deal with people – it was important to just be positive for everyone, let them know that the ambulance was on the way and that things would be ok,” she said.

When Bill’s wife got to the hospital, the doctors told her that a brain injury could be likely, and that chances of recovery were slim. “It was even suggested that she might want to consider a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order.”

But Bill has happily made a symptom-free recovery, which he largely credits to Marisa and Ian’s quick intervention. He has also had a defibrillator implanted, in case of another attack.

A few weeks after Bill was discharged from hospital, he met the woman who had saved his life – and it looks like a firm friendship has formed.

“I’m just really happy that Bill is ok, he’s such a lovely man – and I’m so glad that I could help that day,” Marisa said.

“I feel very strongly that everyone needs to be trained in how to do CPR, and how to be a first responder,” Marisa said. “It’s really important that we look after our community.”

Words by Suzanne Lazaroo, photo by Madeleine Wood

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