Helen Mirren - Queen of Hearts
Monday, 30 November -0001

Queen of hearts

In this exclusive piece, the iconic actress reveals how her friend’s cardiac arrest inspired her to take up a very special cause…

Written by Dame Helen Mirren

Last year a young friend of mine, Chris Worwood, was invited to the premiere of a film I was in called The Debt. Just before the film started and while I was off doing my thing – having my photo taken and talking to the press – he suffered a cardiac arrest right there on the red carpet.

I now know that a cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack and can kill or cause serious brain damage within minutes unless properly treated. By some kind of miracle he was in the right place at the right time: two police officers saw him fall and, knowing that something was very wrong, immediately started CPR on him. They also had the presence of mind to rush to the nearest Tube station and get a defibrillator to help shock him back to life.

Plus, when you organise a premiere you have medical staff prepared for any emergency, so a first-class team was ready and fully equipped to deal with his cardiac arrest. The miracle for Chris was that it happened literally right on the red carpet and with an amazing team of paramedics standing by.

Not everyone can be that lucky – indeed, his luck is incredible – but I learnt subsequently that one of the key paramedics, PC Alan Moore, is part of an organisation called the Voluntary Responder Group, or VRG. They are highly trained paramedics who have learnt CPR and other lifesaving techniques, who give up their free time to volunteer alongside the London Ambulance Service crews to provide essential First Aid to people in lifethreatening situations.

As a result of this, I have become patron of the VRG and went to the London Ambulance headquarters to meet some of the volunteers.

Helen Mirren doing CPR

I learned CPR, which is very simple, and also learned that it’s the first five or 10 minutes that are so important in saving a person’s life – and that is why the work of these volunteers is so vital.

Anyone, regardless of their age or levels of fitness, can suffer a cardiac arrest – one of the terrifying statistics is that 260 children die every year in schools from cardiac arrest. Every school should have a defibrillator and every school should have people who are trained in CPR.

Chris was unbelievably lucky, his life was saved because he was near people who knew what to do and how to do it within the first two or three minutes of a major cardiac arrest.

Many of the VRG team are working policeman, working military personnel – people in the RAF and other services who come back from Afghanistan and immediately sign up to be volunteers.

RAF Northolt has the largest number of members within the Voluntary Responder Group and it is absolutely incredible that they dedicate their free time to this cause, when they already do so much for the country. The VRG also has a network of community responders who are everyday people with First Aid training, who can sign up to help save people’s lives if there is an emergency in their area that needs immediate treatment in the vital minutes before an ambulance can arrive.

This is just a start, and they are doing a great job, but they need cars, they need money, they need volunteers and they need defibrillators. As little as £1,000 can buy a defibrillator and £20,000 can buy a fully equipped Volvo car – not much when it can save a life. © Helen Mirren

For more information on donating and volunteering: www.vrg.org.uk or www.londonambulance.nhs.uk

 Giles Keyte; PA Photos



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