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The heartfelt gift that gave back to two Ashburton brothers!

In the hours following the Crusaders vs Blues game on Sunday 21 March 2021, Alan Johnston’s heart started to skip out of line. With a heart that did not always run smoothly, Alan was not too worried about it.

In 2004 he had had open-heart surgery and a mechanical metal valve inserted to ensure a forward flow of blood through the heart. This metal valve ticks reassuringly like a watch, pumping blood around his body.

That Sunday evening, however, the arrhythmia continued long after the game had finished. Alan stepped outside his mid-Canterbury home to get some fresh air. When Bob, Alan’s brother, came to check on Alan he could hear the metal valve ticking fast – Alan’s heart was racing at 230 beats per minute. Alan asked Bob to call an ambulance. 

The ambulance was dispatched to the Johnston Brothers’ farm in Ashburton, with St John paramedics stabilising Alan and preparing him for what was to come next – an air transfer in the Westpac Rescue Chopper to the rooftop helipad at Waipapa Christchurch Hospital, using the very services and facilities that the brothers had recently supported as part of Māia Health Foundation’s 13-minutes campaign.

Whilst preparing for transfer, the paramedics told Bob that Alan ‘had no right to be alive’. 

Alan remembers the helicopter flight to Christchurch; seeing the lights of the city and speaking to Juliet, one of the paramedics on board. Alan had not imagined that he would ever need the very services that he and Bob had supported.

Alan’s story does have a happy ending. The specialist cardiologist, Dr Ian Crozier, told Alan that he ‘had caused a lot of excitement in the Emergency Department that Sunday evening’. To remain conscious with a heart rate of more than 230 beats per minute is unusual.

A defibrillator has now been inserted just above Alan’s heart, which is monitored remotely by specialists from the Cardiology Department at Christchurch Hospital. Alan has been given the green light from the cardiologists and cleared from follow up for the next 12 months. 

Alan and Bob say they feel privileged to see the difference that their gifts can make. They have had a real buzz in seeing first-hand the impact of their donations to both the Māia Health Foundation and the Canterbury-West Coast Air Rescue Trust, however, they never expected to need the services!

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