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On the worst day of his life, everything went right for James Rousell. 

The English tourist collapsed shortly after getting off China Airlines flight CI53 from Taipei to Brisbane Airport. 

“James had no heartbeat. He was not breathing. His conscious level was fluctuating but when I arrived, he was in complete cardiac arrest and unconscious,” recalls Queensland Ambulance Service High Acuity Response Unit Paramedic, Julie Hughes.  

James was saved thanks to a seamless response by Brisbane Airport staff, aviation rescue fire fighters, paramedics, and emergency doctors in a chain of survival where everything went right, including early identification of symptoms, the instant availability of CPR and high-level clinical care. 

James survived where many others don’t. 

“Very remarkable to get such a good outcome out of this sort of situation, it doesn’t happen often at all,” declares Doctor Louise Cullen, Emergency Physician, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. 

OPERATOR: “Ambulance. What’s the town or suburb of the emergency?” 

CALLER: “Brisbane International Airport. Gate 84.’ 

OPERATOR: “Tell me exactly what happened.” 

CALLER: “I had one of the airport staff bring to my attention, I’ve got a gentleman 54 years of age, he’s very pale, he’s currently in one of the men’s cubicles, he’s not breathing properly… he’s really struggling to breathe, we need the firies ASAP!” 

The “firies” at Brisbane Airport are based between two parallel runways and available for immediate response to aircraft incidents. The Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting service (ARFF) also responds to medical emergencies at the airport. ARFF is run by Airservices Australia, which also operates Air Traffic Control. 

“We advised Air Traffic Control that we were going to a possible cardiac arrest. They gave us a clear route via taxiways to the International Terminal, they held up aircraft so we could do that, and that’s how we got here so quickly,” recalls Officer in Charge, Mike Cole. 

When they reached the terminal, the 3 officers commenced CPR, ensuring a continuous supply of blood and oxygen to keep James alive.  

“25 minutes is a long time to be doing CPR. There were 3 of us that attended and we changed up probably every two minutes because it takes so much out of you.”

That bought James enough time until the Queensland Ambulance service arrived in force: 2 Advanced Care Paramedics, 1 Critical Care Paramedic, 1 High Acuity Response Unit Paramedic and a Senior Operations Supervisor.

“This is a great example of a chain of survival where there has been an early Triple Zero (000) call, someone has recognsied that he’s gone into cardiac arrest, they’ve started CPR, the fire team have arrived with their oxygen and defibrillator, and all of us have just layered on top of that with our advanced resuscitation. He got a clot busting drug, he was put on our machine which is a cardiac compression device which means we can extricate and transport him with high quality CPR and then transition into ED and get that continuous resuscitation,” says Julie Hughes. 

James was without a steady pulse for about 70 minutes. 

Waiting in the Emergency Department at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH), was Emergency Physician Dr Louise Cullen. 

“He was critical and it was touch and go. If it wasn’t firstly for the airport firies who did a superb job starting his CPR, followed by the paramedics and the ambulance service who gave him clot busting drugs and continued that to get him to us, he wouldn’t have survived. I can absolutely guarantee you of that.” 

James was placed in a coma and woke up 3 days later. That was the first he knew of his medical emergency. The last thing he recalled was going to the bathroom after getting off the plane, following his journey from the UK.  

He’d suffered a Pulmonary Embolism; a blood clot that may have been in his system for up to 15 years, shifted and blocked his heart valve. 

“Very remarkable to get such a good outcome out of this sort of situation, it doesn’t happen often at all,” says Louise. 

James returned to Brisbane Airport for a reunion with those who saved his life, and he had a lot of people to meet. 

“I can’t thank them enough,” says James. 

“Thank you doesn’t cover it. They’ve given me back my life. They’ve given me back my dreams, and my aspirations. They’ve given my kids back their father. They’ve given my parents back their son. And they gave my sisters back a brother. How do you say thank you? Thank you just doesn’t cover it.” 

James shared a special moment with the airport firefighters who’ve left him with a lingering reminder of their life-saving CPR, several broken ribs, a perfectly normal occurrence when resuscitation is performed correctly. 

“I thanked them for that. A very small price to pay I told them.” 

One person not present at the reunion, was Qantas employee Trevor Rankin who made the Triple Zero (000) call. He’s currently on holiday in Ireland but got up at 3am to surprise James with a FaceTime call. 

“Look I was in the right place at the right time,” says Trevor. 

James will fly home shortly.  He was in Brisbane to visit his parents, a trip he makes regularly. 

“It’s a miracle,” says his Mother Carole Elliott. 

“If his flight hadn’t come in 15 minutes early he would have died on the plane. And if it wasn’t for everybody here, he would have died.”  

“Days like this we plan for and pray never happen but this is a terrific outcome,” says Stephen Beckett, Head of Public Affairs at Brisbane Airport.

“The Brisbane Airport community swung into action with an immediate response. That included Qantas, Menzies Aviation,  Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting service, Queensland Ambulance Service, Australian Border Force and our Airport Duty Manager.” 

After leaving hospital James bought a lottery ticket.  He knew it was a total waste of money. 

“I didn’t win a thing. So all my luck is used up,” he laughs.