'She's my guardian angel' Castleford teacher saved assistant headteacher's life after going into cardiac arrest in assembly

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An assistant headteacher has hailed her life-saving colleague as her ‘guardian angel’ after she collapsed during a school assembly.

Jolie Pender went into cardiac arrest while hosting an assembly in front of 200 pupils and parents at Castleford Park Junior Academy in February this year.

Jolie, 31, who has a two-year-old daughter, Daisey, said: “I had been to the doctors the year before as I’d been having heart palpitations.

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"My symptoms were put down to stress and low B12 and I didn’t question it.

Jolie and Louise at the awards.Jolie and Louise at the awards.
Jolie and Louise at the awards.

"I’d recently started my new role as assistant head and was putting my absolute all into it.

"The last thing I remember happening that day is saying that I didn’t feel well - then everything went black.”

Colleague Louise Walton, a member of the behaviour management team, was outside the school hall when she heard shouting that Jolie had collapsed.

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Instructing the office to call an ambulance, Louise ran to Jolie’s aid.

Louise with all the CPR Heroes.Louise with all the CPR Heroes.
Louise with all the CPR Heroes.

Louise said: “I knew I had to jump into action. All I kept thinking was there was no way I was going to let Jolie’s little girl grow up without a mother - so I started CPR without hesitation.”

There are more than 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests every year in the UK, but tragically the survival rate is less than one in 10.

Miraculously, thanks to Louise’s quick actions Jolie was not one of them.

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By this point, the children had been escorted out into the playground so that they didn’t have to witness the scene behind them.

“I carried on with CPR for seven minutes until the ambulance arrived and took over,” Louise said.

"I’d recently had a first aid refresher course which gave me real confidence in my ability to do CPR and I am so grateful for it.

"Jolie’s eyes were open but glazed over and she wasn’t blinking. All I kept thinking about was her daughter and how desperate I was to help them both."

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Jolie was shocked by an ambulance defibrillator three times and fortunately became conscious again.

She said: “I remember coming round when the paramedics were there and I had an oxygen mask on my face. It was so surreal.

“There’s no history of heart disease in my family and despite having a cardiac arrest, they can’t find anything wrong with my heart.

" I’ve always considered myself to be quite healthy. I used to work out five times a week, do lots of cardio and weight training and was pretty good in terms of what I eat so, my cardiac arrest was a huge shock to everyone, including me. I’d even done a workout the night before and felt fine!"

Jolie spent 16 nights in hospital.

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"Fortunately, my toddler, Daisey, didn’t understand why mummy was in hospital. I was so grateful to see her and get cuddles to help me feel better.

“I had loads of tests and scans done including a chest x-ray, blood tests, an ECG and an MRI. Even after all of this, there was seemingly nothing structurally wrong with my heart. However, they did find an abnormal heart rhythm but it’s relatively common and doesn’t usually cause any damage.”

Jolie ended up having an S-ICD fitted, which is a type of internal defibrillator that will shock the heart if it stops beating again.

“I was really sore after the procedure and whilst I got to go home to recover, it was very hard with a two-year-old! We tried our best to explain to her what was going on and she now says that ‘mummy has a poorly heart’ and she knows to be careful with cuddles on the side where my S-ICD is.

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“We have also started playing a game called ‘ambulances’ where if I fall over, she knows what to do.

"We’ve also taught her how to call 999. Despite this, I’m not staying with Daisey for long periods of time by myself just in case something happens, which has felt really tough.”

Louise and Jolie messaged every day whilst she was in hospital. Jolie even messaged Louise to say ‘I understand that if I win the lottery this weekend, I owe it to you!’

The two women have created a strong bond since that life changing moment on February 7 and Jolie nominated Louise for a British Heart Foundation Heart Hero Award to express her gratitude.

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She said: “How do you thank someone for saving your life? Nothing you can give is as much as giving you back your life. The least I can do is nominate her for an award to show her just how special she is to us. She’s my guardian angel.”

On her nomination, Louise said: “It was a lovely surprise to receive a nomination and it’s so nice to know just how much it meant to Jolie, but my reward was making sure Daisey still had a mum.

"My family is so proud of my nomination and my children have told all their friends!

“It’s so important to spread awareness of how vital CPR is and I hope our story helps inspire people to take the time to learn CPR and potentially save a life. “

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Louise and Jolie both attended the glitzy BHF Heart Hero Awards in London, which was attended by celebrities including Vernon Kay, Pippa Middleton and David Seaman to help celebrate this year’s incredible and inspirational Heart Heroes.

The awards celebrate individuals who have shown remarkable bravery and gone above and beyond to help others while coping with the devastating impact of heart disease.

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, Chief Executive at the BHF said: “The incredible stories of our 2023 Heart Hero Awards nominees like Louise never fail to inspire me. We’re so thankful to all our supporters who show courage, resilience and bravery every day in the face of heart and circulatory diseases, and we can’t wait to celebrate them with their loved ones.

“There are 7.6 million people in the UK living with heart and circulatory conditions – but by funding lifesaving research, the BHF is helping to keep families together and give people more time with their loved ones.

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"That’s why this Christmas, we are calling for the public to give a gift that keeps on living by donating to the BHF."

To donate to the British Heart Foundation this festive season and give a gift that keeps on living, visit www.bhf.org.uk/Christmas

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