Former Wellsway head John meets sixth-former who helped save his life

Published on: 05 Nov 2016

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Former Wellsway School headteacher John Smith owes his life to one of his ex-pupils and one of the school’s current sixth-formers.

Mr Smith, 74, had a cardiac arrest while swimming at  Keynsham Leisure  Centre  in July, but thanks to the swift actions of Paul Denner and Chris Whittaker and their colleagues he has made an excellent recovery.

“I am so grateful to everyone who helped us so magnificently,” said Mr Smith, from Saltford. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”

The drama happened one morning when Mr Smith was having his regular swim, something he had done almost every day since he recovered from bypass surgery 22 years ago following heart failure.

Chris, 18, was on an early shift as a lifeguard when he noticed that Mr Smith, who was swimming towards the deep end, was sinking. He pressed the alarm, dived in and, with the help of other swimmers and his colleague Becky Dando, who had called the emergency services, pulled Mr Smith to the side.

General manager Steve Williams and duty manager Paul, who recognised Mr Smith because he had taught him at Wellsway, began CPR and then used the centre’s defibrillator.

“He wasn’t breathing,” said Chris. “It took three shocks to get a heartbeat. By that time the paramedics had arrived. They were here within three minutes.”

Mr Smith was taken by ambulance to The Hawthorns in Keynsham, where he was transferred to the air ambulance then flown to the Bristol Royal Infirmary. After treatment in intensive care, the cardiac unit and a cardiology ward, during which a stent and a cardiac resuscitation device were fitted, he was allowed home.

Chris, who is studying for A levels in PE, psychology, business and maths at Wellsway and aims to go to university to read sports management, swam for Keynsham Swimming Club when he was younger and has had a weekend and holiday job at the leisure centre for two years. He lives with his parents Teresa and David in Saltford, coincidentally around the corner from Mr Smith and his wife Diana.

“I had seen him swimming but I did not know who he was,” said Chris. “It is weird seeing how healthy he looks again now.

“You do all the lifesaving training but you never expect that you will have to do it for real. I wouldn’t want to do it again!”

Nevertheless, it paid off – the air ambulance team commended the leisure centre staff for the exemplary way they dealt with the emergency.

Mr Smith is also full of praise: “I feel I have been extremely fortunate. Everybody who cared for me has been absolutely brilliant. If they had not acted so quickly, I might have had brain damage.”

Mr Smith, an English teacher who returned to Wellsway to teach theatre studies part time after his heart failure in 1994, had the chance to thank Chris in person at the launch of Wellsway’s 60th anniversary celebrations earlier in the autumn. It was also  a chance for him to be reunited with some of the school’s other ex-headteachers and some former colleagues.

Wellsway 60 organiser Louise Riddoch said: “It is always a pleasure to welcome John back to the school and it was lovely for him to be able to meet Chris. We are all very proud of Chris for what he did.”

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