Some experiences in life, you just never expect to happen, and when they happen right in front of you, the harsh reality of life can hit you in a heartbeat. One of those experiences that I dare say falls into this category, is to be apart of a group of people who are attempting the national three peak’s challenge, and for one of them to fall victim to a heart attack, on top of the highest mountain in Wales, Mount Snowdon.
To be unfortunately fortunate is a strange thing, from an outsider’s perspective you would think that having a heart attack on top of a mountain, could only end with one scenario. But on this day, we were blessed to have a team of mountain rescue volunteers, close at hand to give immediate attention.
18 participants gathered at the foot of the first mountain of the day, lining up to attempt the national three peaks, with the rain lashing down, we couldn’t have really asked for much worse conditions in the middle of the British summer time. The next two hours saw us attack the ascent in good timing, but something was amiss. I was at the back of this group, helping my father who was struggling on this steep terrain. Having taken the burden of his backpack, we both knew something wasn’t quite right. Was it dehydration? Was it nutrition? Was it overheating? His work mates who he had been training with in the build-up, were 10 minutes further up the mountain, and that saw us left far behind, pondering at the 24 hours which lay ahead. If the first mountain of three were so tough, how was he going to find the next two?
Nevertheless, we attacked the climb anyway. Stopping briefly at moments in order for my father to take a couple of much needed deep breaths. Its only looking back now that we can see, this was the very build up to what would be a severe heart attack, yes, severe. Once we summited, we gathered together, gathered our thoughts, and stopped to take the obligatory group picture on top. One that will forever live deep in our memory, as now when we view this picture, we can officially point at one of the participants in the picture, and whisper the words ‘he was suffering a heart attack at this very moment’.
The next chain of events what happened were nothing short of miraculous. The group split naturally as we started to descend down the mountain. With Matt Mason ‘taking it up the rear’, not far behind my father Sean. As they approached one of the steeper sections, Sean took a turn for the worse. We thought he was recovering as we started to make the descent, but unfortunately, this next turn was to be pivotal. The pain in his arms came, and the thumping feeling within his chest signalled to the pair of them that this was now serious. Should this have been 5 or 10 minutes further down the mountain, giving the weather conditions, the ques, and the harsh reality of the terrain, it would have been a much more difficult procedure to go through. In what was an incredible turn of events, an hour or so earlier a runner had unfortunately taken a slip off the side of the mountain, which saw mountain rescue come to the summit, and take immediate care and attention of him. Due to this, the selfless volunteers were within 5 minutes of Sean, whilst he was suffering from what would turn out to be one of the biggest scenes of events in his entire 58 years of living.
Over the next hour, mountain rescue absolutely devoted themselves to the safety and well-being of Sean. The fact that these individuals are volunteers and do this off their own back, just goes to show that we truly do have some incredibly inspiring people all around us. All this team cared about was making sure that Sean made a safe passage back to the top, and on to the train which comes to the summit of Mount Snowdon. They got the stretcher set up, and pain relief in his arm, in order to sustain some sort of health within him.
Once Sean had made it to the train and made the descent of Mount Snowdon, myself and the rest of the group who were there to attempt the National Three Peaks that day, came along to see how he was getting on. Still not entirely sure at the severity of the situation, we were in pretty high spirits. We had been told that the event would have to come to a close and be cancelled, but I know in the back of my mind, I still believed my father was okay, not suffering a heart attack.
To see him sat in the back of an ambulance, looking brutally pale, was quite a harrowing site. The ambulance crew were in the process of trying to organise a helicopter to get him to the hospital as quick as possible, but unfortunately that was elsewhere on another job. Which meant taking a ride in the back of an ambulance to a hospital in Wales which I could never pronounce the name of. Our time sat in the back of the ambulance whilst they pushed on to the hospital was very sobering to say the least. We still didn’t understand the extent of the heart attack which Sean had suffered and how bad it really was. All we know is that we felt blessed to be in the hand’s experts. One thing that will stay with me forever is the professionalism of the crew which were involved with the procedure of getting my father to the hospital. The selfless commitment and devotion. To think that whatever was happening in their own personal lives at this point in time, got completely disregarded and their only priority right there and then was to make sure that Sean felt safe and secure, and ultimately as comfortable as he could feel, whilst enduring a heart attack.
I write this two months after the scene of events. What happened that day was nothing short of extraordinary. Sean is now in full recovery and has managed to get himself out for a couple of decent walks. It was an eye opener, a life changer, and maybe a blessing in disguise. Despair can be a powerful tool when we use it to learn from what happened. To have a heart attack on top of Mount Snowdon is a frightening ordeal, but we, and certainly Sean, can claim to be Unfortunately, Fortunate.