Sarah Walke recalls her sudden cardiac arrest that led to the founding of CellAED®️ Australia. Learn about the importance of having a home defibrillator.
When I suffered a sudden cardiac arrest at the age of 39, it wasn’t the first time my family was impacted by one of the world's biggest cause of premature death.
I had just turned 19 when my grandmother, Ita Starkey, died in my arms in the restroom of a country railway station. At the station, I went into the restroom with her, she was confused and I helped her into a stall. She passed out on top of me. I panicked, froze, and began yelling for help.
It seemed like a long wait until an ambulance was called and arrived. They were unable to revive her.
I felt very guilty after Nanna passed. I felt I'd let her down, let down my mother and aunt and uncle. I felt I let myself down by not remaining calm and taking action, performing CPR. I don’t feel as guilty many years later. I didn't have the reinforced training, the confidence, and the tools to help her. I had learned CPR at school but wasn't empowered to believe that CPR and defibrillation in the moments following cardiac arrest can make a difference in survival rates. That’s part of the reason why so many people don’t consider keeping a defibrillator at home.
Luck and perseverance
I was 39 years old when I had my sudden cardiac arrest. The first stroke of luck was that my partner Donovan was right next to me when it happened. He was able to overcome the panic of seeing me struggling to breathe and call 000 for help. Like many other families, we didn’t have a mini defibrillator, so it was imperative that help arrive soon.
The second stroke of luck was that there was already an ambulance just around the corner and another two nearby. They all responded.
It took a team of paramedics more than 30 minutes with them taking turns performing CPR to get a shockable rhythm and revive me. Their portable defibrillator saved my life. If those ambulances hadn’t been so close, the outcome could have certainly been different. It’s really hard to do CPR, especially on your own. There’s very little opportunity to stop and look for an AED (automated external defibrillator) if it’s not close by.
I was in a coma for two weeks. While in a coma, the ICU doctors were not confident about my full recovery. Donovan didn’t believe them. He kept fighting for me and remained positive. And slowly, I started to come good again.
I was in rehab for six weeks; I had to relearn to walk again, and it took some time before I was able to make memories. Even now, there's damage to my heart muscle. I don’t respond well to exertion or stress.
Realities and realisations
When I was eventually allowed to return home, we were amazed that I had survived. Upon researching what had happened to me, I was shocked the sudden cardiac arrest survival rate was so low.
That was when we learned about AEDs, and why having one nearby is so important. The best chances of survival are when an AED is used within the first few minutes of a sudden cardiac arrest.
For an AED to be useful, it needs to be in the home. As someone with Type I Diabetes, the risk of me experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest was always higher than average.
I knew I was high risk. But I still didn’t think to get a personal defibrillator. I didn’t have any heart issues, and I was really young.
In retrospect, you'd think I’d be more aware and would be the first to get a home defibrillator.
I was extremely lucky to survive. Most people aren’t as lucky as I was. They don’t receive help in time.
Solving the problem with CellAED®️
Donovan set himself to finding a way to get AEDs into homes after we realised that even a sophisticated health system like Australia’s couldn’t solve the problem.
We have since learned of the many studies into government funding of AEDs for the households of people at risk. They all say the same thing – yes, AEDs can be effective at improving chances of surviving sudden cardiac arrest, but no, the cost-benefit analysis of funding AEDs for every at-risk household does not stack up.
To change this situation, we knew we needed to make AEDs much more affordable. And we had to make them easy to use.
Fast-forward to today, and Donovan and his team have invented CellAED®️.
CellAED®️ defibrillators are designed to be convenient and effective at home or on the go. Even though it’s among the cheapest defibrillators available, it provides the same power and peace of mind that other, more expensive brands do.
CellAED®️ strives to make it affordable and easy for anyone who wants a portable defibrillator in Australia to get one. No one should have to suffer a fatal cardiac arrest simply because they don’t have access to the right equipment.
Thinking about others
An AED isn’t something you typically buy for yourself. It’s something you acquire for someone else, to save someone you love.
We know how lucky we are that I survived. Too many millions aren’t so lucky, every year. For anyone who is worried something like this could happen to someone they love, here's my advice.
Learn how to do CPR, and recognise the signs of sudden cardiac arrest. Then, share that knowledge with the people around you.
These are the first critical steps toward being ready to help someone survive a sudden cardiac arrest.
I’m alive today because Donovan did that for me.