Atul Rao, a US citizen of Indian heritage who was studying in London when his heart stopped six times in a few hours, has made a full recovery and pledged to use his “second chance” to follow in the footsteps of National Health Service (NHS) doctors, nurses and paramedics who saved his life.
Rao was taken to the heart attack centre at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust’s Hammersmith Hospital in London where scans confirmed that blood clots in the lungs were blocking the flow of blood from the heart. NHS staff at the hospital worked tirelessly through the night to keep Atul alive and stabilise him, but his heart stopped a further five times in that first 24 hours before clot-busting drugs began to work and Atul’s heart started beating reliably.
He was still critically unwell when he was transported to St. Thomas’ Hospital in London in case he needed access to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) – a life support system which can fully replace the work of the heart and lungs so that patients have time to heal. Over two weeks in July, he made a remarkable recovery from a condition called pulmonary embolism that had caused him to go into cardiac arrest.
The student, who spent his 21st birthday in a hospital bed with his parents and some student friends, returned to the Hammersmith Hospital recently to express his gratitude to the medical crew.
He said: “Most 21-year-olds want to go out drinking. Given how dangerous my situation had been, I was grateful to be here and have people who love me around to celebrate.
“Before this happened, I was starting to wonder if I was doing the right thing doing medicine and whether I should be going into business instead. But the minute I woke up I knew. I want to use my time in a productive way. I want to use my second chance at life by helping others.”
MORE LIKE THIS…
From Seattle and a student at Baylor University in Texas, Rao is in his final year of a pre-med degree which would allow him to go on to a further degree to practice medicine. His parents, software techie father Ajay and maths teacher mother Srividhya, joined him on his return visit to the hospital express their gratitude for saving their son’s life.
Dr Louit Thakuria, critical care consultant at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust’s Hammersmith Hospital, said: “It’s not often you see 20-year-olds have a cardiac arrest and it’s even more rare to see someone who has had six cardiac arrests in one day make such a miraculous recovery.
“This was a real team effort and so many people helped ensure Atul was able to be here. It’s a privilege to be a part of that and hear that you have helped make such a positive impact.”
Dan Taylor, ECMO consultant at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, noted: “Atul had a very challenging combination of problems which required input from multiple specialist teams.
MORE LIKE THIS…
“Thankfully his heart failure improved and he was able to avoid ECMO, but he spent several days critically ill in the intensive care unit. The whole team are delighted that Atul has made such a great recovery, and we wish him the very best in his medical career in the future.”
Now that Rao has recovered from his cardiac arrests, he is having tests to investigate the underlying cause for the formation of this dangerous blood clot in the lungs. Once doctors agreed it was safe, he was allowed to return home to the US.
The NHS Trust said his case shows the importance of receiving good chest compressions in the immediate aftermath of a cardiac arrest. London Ambulance Service’s London Lifesavers campaign aims to train up thousands of Londoners with the knowledge and confidence to act in an emergency situation until ambulance crews arrive at the scene.
MORE LIKE THIS…
With support from the Imperial Health Charity, Imperial College Healthcare are currently working to develop an ECMO service at Hammersmith Hospital to give critically ill patients the best chance of survival.