accessibility & help

Sara's story: I saved a pensioner’s life

16 July 2009

Sara Hughes, false teeth life-saverJust two days after completing a Red Cross first aid course, heroine Sara Hughes found herself saving the life of a critically ill pensioner – and even removing his teeth in the process.

Sara Hughes (44) from Buriton in Hampshire joined a friend at a local pub on 2 July after signing her divorce papers. Just two days earlier, the single mum had completed a first aid training course with the British Red Cross.

However, as they entered the bar, they saw an elderly man suddenly fall from his stool. Luckily, another customer caught the pensioner and lowered him gently to the floor, but he was already unconscious and not breathing.

Mouth to mouth

Sara recalled: “That was when I noticed he was bright blue. The guy who had got him to the floor put his head back and started giving him mouth to mouth. But the poor man’s teeth were hanging out of his mouth and I knew that was wrong.

A woman gives rescue breaths to a man after an accidentLayton Thompson

“I instantly recognised the man wasn’t giving mouth to mouth correctly – he hadn’t opened up or checked the airway. So I jumped in and said: ‘I’m a first aider’, and he seemed really relieved.”

Having assumed responsibility, Sara acted instinctively and put her training into practice. She said: “I plucked his teeth out and checked his airway, then gave two rescue breaths and began the CPR compressions. As I got to about 20, he started breathing. I just felt sick at this point – my mind was blank. I can’t explain the feeling. I just said: ‘Oh my god, he’s breathing’.”

Recovery position

Sara continued: “He was still unconscious so I placed him in the recovery position, which was quite easy to do. Someone had called an ambulance and I spoke to the operator on the phone and told them what I had done, then the paramedics arrived.

“He came round a couple of minutes after the paramedics arrived and apologised for taking up my time! He was such a gentleman. It was a very hot day, and he was very well dressed in a full tie, shirt and pullover. I still don’t know what happened to cause him to stop breathing.”

Looking back, Sara reasoned: “It was an automatic reaction to step in there and help him. I hadn’t paused to think about whether I wanted to or whether I should – I just did it. I didn’t even stop to think this man’s life was in my hands until he started breathing again.

“The only thing I wasn’t prepared for was the mouth to mouth. It’s quite different doing it on a real person, on an elderly man, rather than a plastic dummy.”

Life-saving skills

Sara’s introductory first aid course only took two and a half hours to complete, but has had a profound effect. She said: “I’m so pleased I took part in the course. What if I’d been in the pub and not known what to do, and that man had died? I felt it was down to me – I felt responsible for the guy until the paramedics turned up.

“People have a responsibility to know first aid in their community. If I hadn’t been there, that man might be dead now. I just kept thinking – what if that had been me? I wouldn’t have had a chance because no one else in that pub knew what to do.”

Sara, who has a seven-year-old daughter, now feels a lot more secure because of her new skills. She said: “A lot of first aid is common sense but you have to know what to do. It’s easy to learn. Being a parent was my main reason for going on the course, but it also enabled me to help in my community.”

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