MEET Michelle Carroll who was ‘brought back from the dead’ by her soulmate and a total stranger.
The normally fit and healthy 46-year-old’s heart stopped for 30 minutes and is only alive today thanks to quick-thinking partner Marco Franchini and firefighter Steve Humby.
Michelle says like any other evening she had kissed Marco goodnight, not imagining it could be their last.
But at 3am she was struck down by Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS) in her sleep, a fatal heart condition that claims the lives of 500 people every year in the UK.
Without any warning signs and for no apparent reason, Michelle’s heart stopped as she slept.
Remarkably though, Marco awoke and in a desperate bid to revive his lifeless partner, he immediately began CPR to save her life.
Retained firefighter Steve Humby, who volunteers as a co-responder for South Central Ambulance Service, arrived within minutes to continue the resuscitation and against the odds, Michelle’s heartbeat returned.
Now one year on, Michelle says she is lucky to be alive and has even thrown a celebration of life party to honour the two men she calls her heroes.
“If it wasn’t for these two amazing men I wouldn’t be here today.
“It feels so good to be alive,” she smiles.
Michelle went to bed with no symptoms last summer.
The estate agent who works at Pearsons had spent the day on a company speed boat on the Isle of Wight and had returned to her Hamble home early to enjoy the sunshine and read her book.
She snuggled up to partner Marco to watch TV and went to bed as normal.
But Marco, 48, normally a deep sleeper, awoke suddenly at 3am and was disturbed by the silence.
He explains: “There must have been some movement of Michelle’s body that forced me to wake up.
“I was annoyed she’d woken me up so I turned around and said: ‘oi’, but I had no answer from her. Normally, she would have said something because she’s a really light sleeper.
“I said ‘hello’, there was no answer.
“I turned the light on and that’s when I saw the life of my partner had gone.
“All I could hear was a release of air noise coming from her mouth, but there was no breathing, no movement and she looked pale like a ghost.
“I desperately tried to wake her, I shook her, called out to her, but there was nothing.
It was like her light had been switched off.
“I knew I had to call 999 and keep calm.”
Marco, who is originally from Naples in Italy, immediately called 999 and was guided through a series of instructions to place Michelle on the floor before performing CPR.
“I had the phone in my left hand and I had to count with the lady on the phone to pump her chest with my right hand, it was exhausting.
“I felt unusually calm but it comes down to a question of what you believe.
“Perhaps the angels said to me ‘look something is wrong here, you have to wake up.’ “I feel lucky I did, otherwise I would have woken up in the morning with a dead body next to me.
“But there were two very vivid moments in that hour.
“The first I felt my God, I am in control of bringing life to death. There she was facing death but it wasn’t quite there yet and it was in my hands to do something about it.
“The second thought was this just wasn’t the right time. I prayed to God ‘no please don’t let her go now. This is absolutely not the time for me. She’s my support and I can’t see my future without her.
“I felt utter relief when I heard the knock on the door and I ran so fast.”
Within minutes firefighter Steve Humby stationed nearby arrived and was able to continue the battle to resuscitate Michelle using a defibrillator to shock her heart.
Michelle pictured with Marco and firefighter and co-responder Steve Humby
Two ambulances then arrived and paramedics again gave Michelle an electric shock with a defibrillator to finally get her heart beating again before rushing her to Southampton General Hospital where she was induced into a coma for 24 hours in a bid to stop any brain damage.
“I didn’t know what the result would be,” says Marco.
“It was then I went to pieces. I waited and waited. Even in hospital I feared I’d lose Michelle.”
Remarkably she came around.
She says: “I had very bad short term memory loss when I came around.
“Apparently I was asking ‘what am I doing here?’ again and again, Marco would tell me I had a cardiac arrest and then I’d fall back to sleep again.”
Michelle spent two weeks in hospital.
The diagnosis of SADS meant medics had to fit an Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD), which though the size of a cigarette packet, can save Michelle if her heart stops again by shocking it back to life.
Inserted under her collarbone, it is connected by wires to monitor her heartbeat around the clock to transmit the data to a device she keeps at home which is tracked by doctors.
It means her and her partner Marco are no longer frightened to fall asleep.
Michelle, explains: “I was told my heart just stopped and with that everything just shuts down really quickly.
“It happens with no warning. You could literally be talking and the next second you just drop down dead.
“When I was told only one in ten people survive, I burst into tears.
“The ones who do survive, have someone beside them who can do CPR and bring them back to life. Without that, everyone else goes.”
Today, the couple who met 12 years ago when Michelle sold Marco a home, make the most of every moment together.
Michelle, says: “We have always stuck together. Now he’s my hero. I feel blessed.
Steve is my hero number two. He’s amazing and so humble.
“Every single person who gave me care was just amazing and I’m eternally grateful.
“We are always a couple to celebrate everything but I wanted to throw a party to celebrate life.
“Now, I let go and forget about all the small stuff. I haven’t got any plans for five years on, ten years on. This has taught me to live for each day now. All you really have is the now so for me I live my life very much for the moment and enjoy what I’ve got now.”
What is Sudden Adult Death Syndrome?
Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS) also known as Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome, is a group of conditions that can cause sudden death in adults.
A cardiac arrest is brought on by a problem with the electrical functioning of the heart, even though the person has no disease affecting the heart.
There are often no warning signs but in some cases can include fainting or dizziness during exercise, chest pain and severe breathlessness.
Last year Claire Reed, 22, from Eastleigh, who was previously fit and healthy, died of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome at a hen party, five months after her own wedding.
Her widower, Andy, and family have called for more screening to detect the condition.
Claire Reed, who died of SADS. Picture: Julian Stock
According to the Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) website, at least 12 people aged under 35 die suddenly each week in the UK of previously undetected heart problems.
The organisation said figures suggest a 90 per cent drop in deaths in Italy since mandatory screening was introduced there and Claire’s family are campaigning for SADS testing to be available in the UK on the NHS.
Thanks to money raised since his wife’s death, Andy has launched a round of free heart health checks on October 4 and October 5 and next year on January 18 and 19 at Fleming Park Leisure Centre in Eastleigh. The test involves experts taking an electrocardiogram (ECG) to record the heart’s electrical activity and identify any abnormality.
This year Claire’s dad and parish councillor Graham Hunter unveiled community defibrillators in Botley which he hopes may save lives.
For information on the autumn screenings, log on to testmyheart.org