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Monday, 01 September 2014

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Carlisle heart attack survivor hails London helicopter pilot 'a hero'

A retired joiner has spoken of his debt of gratitude to the air ambulance crew who saved his life.

Rod Bell photo
Rod Bell with Alison Foster, licencee of The Sportsman Inn

The Pride of Cumbria, Great North air ambulance, had to make an emergency landing in a field of sheep after Rod Bell’s heart stopped beating.

The 67-year-old, of Richardson Street, Carlisle, had a heart attack four years ago next month, and is marking the anniversary with a fundraising event for the charity which saved him.

“I was at my back door when I had a heart attack,” he recalled. “I’d done a full first aid course at work two weeks earlier, and when I had pains in my chest I looked in the mirror and saw I was grey.

“I shouted to my wife Margaret that she needed to call an ambulance because I was having a heart attack.” Mr Bell was taken to the Cumberland Infirmary, in Carlisle, but because at that time it did not have its new heart centre the staff could only give him medication.

He explained: “The staff were excellent, but the medication wasn’t working. I remember being loaded into the Pride of Cumbria to be transferred to the Freeman Hospital, in Newcastle, and that’s the last thing I remember.”

Mr Bell had another heart attack while the helicopter was in the air, and the crew knew they needed to take immediate action.

The pilot, Pete Barnes, who died two weeks ago after his helicopter crashed into a crane in London, decided to land in a field to allow paramedics to use a defibrillator to restart Mr Bell’s heart. He was then flown to the Freeman and operated on shortly after arrival.

“I was at the infirmary for a check-up,” Mr Bell continued, “and this man tapped me on the shoulder and asked how I was. I didn’t recognise him, but it was Pete the pilot. He said I was the talk of the air ambulance community, because he’d had to land in a field of sheep.”

Mr Barnes has since been criticised for allegedly choosing to fly on the day he died, against advice. However, Mr Bell is convinced he is a hero.

“He was the man who landed only the front of the helicopter on the edge of a mountain in the Lakes and kept it hovering there so they could do a rescue,” he claimed.

“Without Pete Barnes and those paramedics I would not be here – they have told me exactly that.”

Now, Mr Bell has joined forces with Alison and Dave Foster, who recently took over at The Sportsman in Carlisle, to hold a fundraiser. On Friday, the pub is having a race night and raffle in aid of the Pride of Cumbria, based at Langwathby near Penrith.

Mrs Foster said: “We have already sold almost 1,000 raffle tickets, the response has been amazing.

“We have more than 80 raffle prizes, as every shop in Carlisle seems to have come forward – partly because they know me and Rod so well, but also because the Pride of Cumbria means so much to us.”

The night starts at 7.30pm and all are welcome.

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