One minute, a 27-year-old Ellie Bayliss was standing on the platform at Redfern Station in Sydney ready to head home after work, the next, she woke up in the ICU of RPA Hospital with absolutely no recollection of what had happened.
Four days had passed, and Ellie was told she had collapsed, had a seizure, and suffered a cardiac arrest. And the only reason she survived was because three people that knew CPR, one of them a paramedic, happened to be at the station and were able to keep her alive until the ambulance arrived.
“That was one of the most difficult things, waking up in hospital I had no recollection of what had happened,” Ellie tells Yahoo Lifestyle of the day in October 2016 when her life changed.
“I was so lucky, because one thing I’ve now learned with cardiac arrest is that you only have minutes until things go horrifically bad.”
It’s been over two years since that day and Ellie, now 30, admits while she was young, fit and healthy, there were signs over the years that something wasn’t quite right.
“I wish I had just gone with my gut,” she tells us.
Ellie spent four days in an induced coma. She had suffered a VF arrest - Ventricular fibrillation. Her heart hadn’t stopped completely but it was essentially quivering. If it can’t produce a beat, to keep the circulatory system flowing, brain cells begin to die after four to six minutes of oxygen deprivation.
Three men saved her life that day: James, the station paramedic who had just started his shift, off-duty lifeguard Allen, and Eric, who was Allen’s former colleague that he hadn’t seen in two decades.
They performed CPR on Ellie for between 4-7 minutes before the NSW Ambulance arrived and shocked her once with a defibrillator.
“I was so lucky that James was there just as I went into the VF arrest. He recognised that my pulse was slowing down and realised it was more than a seizure, that is was heart-related,” Ellie explains.
Ellie had no memory of what happened and has since been able to piece it all together with the help of those lifesavers, her family and friends.
“Waking up in ICU you have no idea what’s going on and that was pretty overwhelming to say the least,” she says.
“And having my whole family there I knew that it was something very serious. I just remember the feeling that my chest felt like someone had walked all over it.”
At first doctors couldn’t pinpoint exactly why she had gone into cardiac arrest, which made things difficult for her recovery mentally, not knowing if it could happen again at any minute.
“Recovery was very hard at the start, and I would say more so mentally than physically,” she explains. “Physically I was very determined to get back to where I was. Mentally though you get scared that it could happen again and you don’t know when. Also, being nervous and losing faith in your own body.”
After a multitude of tests and more procedures it was determined that Ellie had some scarring on her heart, an arrhythmia and something called mitral valve prolapse - almost impossible to detect unless it is caught in action.
She was discharged from hospital after six weeks and one of her first questions to her cardiologist was whether she could still have a baby.
And while she was told that she should definitely focus on her own health first, and any pregnancy would have to be planned well in advance, Ellie and partner Jarred, 32, were both surprised when she fell pregnant a year after her episode.
“My partner and I got a very big surprise when we found out Louie was coming,” Ellie admits.
“I was equal parts surprised and terrified because I wasn’t sure if was allowed to have him. So I rang my cardiologist and spoke to her but she said it’s fine!”
The pregnancy itself went relatively smoothly, however after having an emergency C-section, Ellie found herself back in ICU just metres from where she woke from her coma.
“The surgery did end up taking its toll on my heart and it was confronting being a new mum, not having my baby with me, and being back in ICU,” Ellie says.
Louie is now almost 10 months old, and while much has changed for Ellie – she is on daily medication, and had a defibrillator inserted – she is enjoying her new job as a mum.
“Prior to the cardiac arrest I was living such a fast-paced life and I was so hell bent on getting that amazing career and it felt like it was in fast-forward,” she says.
“And now as cliché as it sounds I have just stopped to smell the roses.
“Even though it’s been the most horrible thing that’s happened to us – and I say us because my whole family went through it – for me it’s always been such a positive thing.
“Because through it, I have grown as a person, I’ve become closer to my family and met some incredible people.”
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