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'We're eternally grateful': Suffolk parents thank life-saving staff at Barking Pre-school for quick action

PUBLISHED: 06:00 12 May 2018 | UPDATED: 06:41 12 May 2018

William, Annabel and Rebecca Brightwell. Picture: GREGG BROWN

William, Annabel and Rebecca Brightwell. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The parents of a three-year-old girl who suffered a cardiac arrest at a Suffolk pre-school say they are "eternally grateful" to the quick-thinking staff who saved her life.

Annabel Brightwell collapsed while she was dancing at Barking Pre-school on Friday, February 9, due to a pre-existing heart condition unknown to her parents.

Pre-school manager Shelley Symonds, assisted by staff member Ness Hall, performed CPR for around 20 minutes until the emergency services arrived.

The toddler will have to remain on medication for the rest of her life but has made a full recovery and returned to the pre-school last month.

Parents William and Rebecca Brightwell, both 37, who live at Willisham Tye, near Needham Market, said the swift action from the pre-school staff saved their daughter’s life.

Barking Pre-school manager Shelley Symonds who helped to save Annabel Brightwell's life by performing CPR. Picture: GREGG BROWNBarking Pre-school manager Shelley Symonds who helped to save Annabel Brightwell's life by performing CPR. Picture: GREGG BROWN

“We cannot put into words our heartfelt gratitude to Shelley, Ness, and the rest of the pre-school staff. They were exceptional,” said Rebecca.

“The sheer courage it took to perform CPR while managing the whole situation in a calm and professional manner.

“Shelley saved our daughter’s life and we’re eternally grateful to her.

“Ultimately, the CPR saved her because she was really never without oxygen. It’s nothing short of a miracle she’s still here.”

Annabel Brightwell, who suffered a cardiac arrest at Barking Pre-school in February. Picture: GREGG BROWNAnnabel Brightwell, who suffered a cardiac arrest at Barking Pre-school in February. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Following the arrival of the emergency services, Annabel was placed in an induced coma and airlifted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.

The three-year-old was stabilised and then transferred to the Royal Brompton Hospital in London and two days later she woke from the coma.

The toddler spent six days in intensive care at the specialist hospital and was diagnosed with a rare genetic heart condition called CPVT (Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia).

The condition is characterized by an abnormal heart rhythm and as the heart rate increases in response to physical activity or emotional stress, it can trigger an abnormally fast and irregular heartbeat.

Annabel with her parents, William and Rebecca Brightwell, who want to thank Barking Pre-School staff who saved their daughter's life after she suffered a cardiac arrest. Picture: GREGG BROWNAnnabel with her parents, William and Rebecca Brightwell, who want to thank Barking Pre-School staff who saved their daughter's life after she suffered a cardiac arrest. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Annabel spent another month under the specialist care at the Royal Brompton where she was put on medication, which she now takes three times a day.

She also underwent a procedure to significantly reduce future occurrences of an abnormal heart rhythm and risk of another cardiac arrest.

William said: “We were so pleased that when she woke, she was able to recognise us and able to move and we appeared to have our little girl back.

“We’re so grateful for all the care we received throughout the whole ordeal.

Parents William and Rebecca Brightwell with daughter Annabel and staff at Barking Pre-school. Picture: GREGG BROWNParents William and Rebecca Brightwell with daughter Annabel and staff at Barking Pre-school. Picture: GREGG BROWN

“It was a very unfortunate thing that happened, but it was followed by a number of very fortunate events. Everything just fell into place thankfully.

“All of the services were brilliant and it’s difficult to put into words just how thankful we are.”

Pre-school manager Shelley, who accompanied Annabel in the East Anglian Air Ambulance to Addenbrooke’s, said: “Initially we thought we were dealing with a head injury and that Annabel had knocked herself unconscious while dancing.

“Quickly after assessing the situation, we realised she was not breathing, so we started CPR immediately.

William, Annabel and Rebecca Brightwell.  Picture: GREGG BROWNWilliam, Annabel and Rebecca Brightwell. Picture: GREGG BROWN

“Myself and my colleague Ness were doing CPR for about 20 minutes until the emergency services arrived while other staff took care of the other children and rang their parents so they could come and collect them.”

Shelley, who is CPR trained along with the rest of the pre-school staff, paid tribute to the emergency services for their part in the incident.

“I still think it was the paramedics and the consultants at the hospital that saved her life,” she said. “I gave her a fighting chance but that hasn’t really sunk in.

“You do the first-aid training and go on the courses but never think you’re going to have to use it on a three-year-old child.

“It’s priceless to see her now walking through that door again. I honestly felt on the day that we wouldn’t see her pull through.

“It’s totally amazing to see such a strong little girl. She’s a little walking miracle.”

William and Rebecca, who also have a son, six-year-old George, say they are now looking to fundraise as much as possible for the pre-school as well as setting up first aid courses for parents.

“A lot of parents and grandparents at the pre-school have mentioned they wouldn’t know what to do and likewise with us,” said Rebecca.

“We know the outcome would have been different if maybe Annabel would have been at home.

“I had only done a basic first-aid course and Will hadn’t done one at all so it’s something we would definitely like to promote and obviously it does save lives.

“It’s really a crucial skill that everyone should know.”

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