Long-standing Carlisle fundraiser hosts final charity event

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Rod Bell
Rod Bell

Seven years ago Rod Bell went into cardiac arrest when he was being transferred by air medics to hospital in Newcastle.

The crew’s swift actions – making an emergency landing in a field surrounded by sheep to use a defibrillator to restart his heart – mean he is still here today.

He has since raised a staggering £12,000 as a thank you to the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) which saved his life.

Sadly Mr Bell – who has organised an annual event every year since – has decided his latest fundraising event at The Sportsman Inn, Carlisle, will also be his last.

While it was as successful as ever, the 72-year-old, of Richardson Street, Denton Holme, said he needs to think about his health.

Putting it on is not an easy feat.

He suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asbestosis and is on oxygen 16-hours-a-day.

The event takes around five months for Mr Bell to organise single-handedly – and while he would love to continue repaying the charity that saved him, the former joiner, who worked for Carillion as an instructor, has reluctantly called it a day.

“It went really well. The total was £2,960,” he said.

“I was surprised at the number of people who turned up.

“It does take it out of you. I would love to carry on but I’m putting my health first this time.

“They’ve all been at me to keep going but I’m not going to. This is my last one.”

The event was just a piece of Rod’s dedication to the charity which he can’t thank enough for what they’ve done to help him.

In 2015 he donated the funds raised from a pie and pea supper – £3,603.49 – to The Cumberland News’ SkyCall Appeal, which ultimately raised £60,000 to provide the GNAAS with life-saving equipment.

Up until a few months ago he also volunteered for the charity, going round schools and explaining its importance.

“Seven or eight years ago I had a bad heart attack,” he said.

“The air ambulance flew me from the Cumberland Infirmary to the Freeman and my heart stopped.

“To cut a long story short, they saved my life.”

Rod was at home when he began having pains in his chest.

He shouted to his wife Margaret, who called for an ambulance as he realised he was having a heart attack.

He was rushed to the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle but medical staff were limited to only being able to give him medication, which was not working.

Rod was put into the helicopter to be transferred.

It was on the journey to the north east when air medics’ snap decisions were vital to his rescue.

He suffered another heart attack and they made an emergency landing in order to restart Mr Bell’s heart with the defibrillator.

“My heart stopped. I had a cardiac arrest and the defibrillators that they had, they couldn’t use when the helicopters was flying.

“They brought me round and flew me on to Newcastle,” he said.

He underwent emergency life-saving surgery at the Freeman hospital and had two stents put in.

Speaking about his dedication, Mandy Drake, head of fundraising at GNAAS, said: “Rod has held a number of events for us over the years and we are hugely grateful.

“This is a prime example of a former patient fundraising for us in a bid to say thanks, which is extremely humbling.

“Last year, we flew 869 missions, and we rely on the generosity of the public to keep us in the air.

“Support such as this means we can continue our work across Cumbria, which is the charity’s busiest patch.”

The Great North Air Ambulance needs £4.5m every year to keep its three aircraft running.

As many as 80 people packed out the city centre pub.

They enjoyed entertainment from a ukulele band and got behind GNAAS, taking part in raffles and a tombola.

Mr Bell wanted to thank all those – businesses and individuals – who have supported his events over the years.

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