Heart attack victim Sandy needs your help to keep East Anglian Air Ambulance flying
- Credit: Su Anderson
Sandy Sutherland was just looking forward to a round of golf. Instead, he found himself in intensive care unsure whether he’d live or die. He tells entertainment writer Wayne Savage why we must keep the East Anglian Air Ambulance in the sky.
Thursday, March 1, 2007. It’s a date Sandy will never forget. It had begun ordinarily enough, with a round of golf at Stoke By Nayland with friends from his days working on Felixstowe dock. Hours later he was in intensive care at Colchester Hospital, unsure whether he’d make it to Monday.
It had rained heavily so they had to carry their bags instead of taking trolleys onto the course he recalls, laughing that if he had trusted his common sense he would have gone home there and then. Everything was fine until the 17th tee, atop a big hill.
“I felt a bit strange. I teed the ball up, swung the club and it went further than the ball, I just couldn’t hold it. I said to the lads ‘I don’t feel right at all’. I had to lean against a tree, I had no strength.”
They called 999 and the clubhouse to get a golf cart to pick up Sandy. As luck would have it, a doctor and nurse were at the bottom of the hill having heard the call. The last thing he remembered is the latter taking his pulse.
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“I just fell out of the buggy apparently. The next thing I knew I was waking up in the ambulance and the paramedic saying ‘it ain’t your turn to go mate, we only hit you once and you came back’. I couldn’t figure out when I was in hospital why my side was bruised black, it’s where they’d hit me (with a defibrillator) to get the heart going.”
The rain had a second part to play in the unfolding drama. When the ambulance tried to pull off the golf course it sank to its axles in the mud leaving Sandy stranded. Passing out again, he awoke to the noise of the East Anglian Air Ambulance. The next thing he knew, he’d been stretchered inside and given a headset so he could talk to the pilot en route to Colchester Hospital.
“I could listen to what was going on so I had other things to think about. I was comfortable and I don’t think at that time I realised how seriously ill I was,” says the musician, who later discovered he had suffered a silent heart attack; one that has few, if any, warning symptoms.
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“When I got to the hospital this chap wanted to stick this big needle into my stomach,” he laughs. “I said ‘what’s that for?’ and he said ‘you’ve got a one in a thousand chance of dying from this or it’s going to save your life but I need your permission so I said ‘yeah go ahead’.
“They got me into intensive care and I can remember saying to the heart consultant ‘tell me the truth, am I going to die?’ He said ‘not on my watch’,” laughs Sandy. “I thought lovely but he said ‘I will tell you if you make it through to Monday morning you’ll be out the woods, but between now and Monday you’re in God’s hands’.”
The father-of-three remembers being obsessed with the machine registering his heart rate, blood pressure...
The concerned staff had to turn it off and monitor him from their office so he could get some much-needed rest. When Monday came he was moved to a general war, “I thought ‘ooh made it’,” he smiles.
By the time of his angiogram, the test which highlights narrow or blocked coronary arteries, on the Tuesday he was trading golfing tips with the specialist. Sandy, who feared needing a bypass, was lucky. He only needed a stent, a small mesh tube used to expand arteries to get good blood flow again.
“When I went home, I’m going down the A12, looking around and I tell you what, you start to notice how green the trees are. The different colours, different shades; the sky. Things you took for granted. The way I saw it, I was given a second chance.”
Sandy, who has returned to playing golf, albeit not at Stoke By Nayland - “You won’t get me back there for all the tea in China,” he laughs - has used that second chance to raise money for the air ambulance who he calls “unsung heroes”.
March 26 will mark the ninth time he’s staged a night of music at Kesgrave Social Club. Collecting £18,200 so far, Sandy’s band The Martells will headline, with special guests Herongreen playing 1950s, 1960s and country rock and Shoot The Drummer doing songs from the 1960s-1980s.
“When we did the first one, we thought it was very apt to do the Pink Floyd number Coming Back To Life from the Division Bell Album. I actually died and they brought me back. We’ve done it every year since, it’s become a tradition. I’d set a target of £20,000 but I really never believed we’d get that much. I’m absolutely over the moon (with how much we’ve raised) but what price do you put on your life? Twenty grand is cheap.”
The fact the East Anglian Air Ambulance doesn’t receive any government funding is a sore point.
“It’s got to keep flying and if wasn’t for the people who come to functions like this it wouldn’t be able to so a big thank you to all those who support our function at Kesgrave which is just a small proportion of the people who keep these helicopters in the air.
“We’re all vulnerable; it may not be a heart attack, it could be a road accident, anything. It never crosses your mind when you walk out the door in the morning you might not walk back through it.”
Sandy is grateful to all the musicians and volunteers, including Felixstowe’s 4Fs Motorcycle Club who man the door, who have helped over the years.
“They’ve never, ever, said well ‘I’ll have to wait and see’ or ‘I’ll let you know’. It’s been an immediate yes even though I can’t pay them anything.”
Tickets for A Night for The Air Ambulance, on Saturday, March 26, 6.30pm to midnight, at Kesgrave Social Club, cost £10. Compered by BBC Radio Suffolk’s Stephen Foster, entry is limited to 250 people. They’re available on 01473 622128, 01473 610212 or 01473 405672.