Play had resumed after half-time when Lukas began to feel strange. The last thing he remembers before collapsing was sitting at the side of the football pitch. His heart then stopped for several minutes.
On the pitch, Tom Dunning and another footballer, Michael, saw Lukas lying motionless and sprang into action. While Tom ran into North Kesteven leisure centre to call for help, Michael rushed over to his limp body and started CPR.
With the ambulance still 10 minutes away, Michael and Tom took it in turns to press Lukas’ chest in time to the song Staying Alive – Tom recalls how he learned the tactic from British Heart Foundation’s Vinnie Jones advert.
Incredibly, because of their swift action, Lukas has not only lived to tell the tale but has walked away from the incident without brain damage.
Lukas (who prefers not to share his surname) and Tom have now met up for an “anniversary” beer to mark a year since the incident. Their story is especially poignant because just four years earlier, Tom had attempted to attempt suicide.
The mental health campaigner, who has spoken openly about his experience of PTSD, psychosis and anxiety in the past, reflects that had he not survived his own multiple suicide attempts, two lives might well have been lost last year.
Statistics in September 2019 revealed UK suicide rates have reached their highest level since 2002, with men disproportionately affected.
Tom has shared his story to let others know that recovery is possible. “I want to try and show people that things might be bad now, but it will get better,” he says, “and one day you might even save someone’s life”.
Lukas, a 25-year-old mechanic living in Lincoln, remembers little of the night in question.
“When I was out playing football my heart rate shot up and went far too high,” he tells HuffPostUK. “I started feeling unwell and said to my friend I was going to go and sit down. I went and sat down by the side of the pitch, and then I collapsed and my heart stopped beating.
“I woke up in hospital at lunchtime the day after.”
Both Tom and Michael were trained in first aid. They gave Lukas CPR for 15 minutes to keep blood pumping around his body and flowing to his brain. When the ambulance arrived, paramedics injected him with adrenalin and tried to restart his heart using a defibrillator. He was then rushed to hospital.
Tom says he was on autopilot for the entire time. It was only after, when he was driving home, that the gravity of the situation sunk in properly. “I pulled over, was sick on the floor and started to cry,” he says.
It was “pure fluke” he was even at the game, says Tom – he’d been called up last minute as his local team needed an extra player and he agreed to step in.
The 28-year-old, who also lives in Lincoln and works as a process technician at British Sugar, took to Instagram after meeting with Lukas last week to reflect on the event. “I’ll be honest and it’s no secret, I attempted suicide – I won’t say how, but let’s just say, I tried many different ways,” he wrote of his own journey.
“Now if I had actually succeeded in taking my life, on the night where Lukas needed my help, I wouldn’t have been there. Okay, chances are he probably still would have been okay, but on face value the odds would be further stacked against him. It could have been two lives for the price of one.”
He continued: “Suicide or self harm is never the answer – I learned the hard way. Never give up on your recovery, but more importantly yourself.”
The 28-year-old describes the turn of events as “reaffirming” and that having the opportunity to catch up with Lukas over a beer was “life-changing”.
“Just to see he was still here, to have a beer, to see he’s well and recovering, it was almost like closure that he’s here because of my actions,” he explains. “It kind of gave my life meaning.”
Lukas hasn’t had a proper diagnosis since the ordeal, however doctors suspect he has an inherited heart disease. He is eternally grateful to Tom and Michael for what they did. “Words can’t really describe what they did for me,” he tells HuffPost, over the phone. “There isn’t a word or sentence you can say to someone for what they did that night.
“They’re both incredible human beings for carrying on for as long as they did and for doing the CPR as well as they did, because not only did they save my life but they stopped me from waking up with a horrible brain injury which would’ve put me in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.”
Reflecting on Tom’s mental health journey, Lukas adds: “As much as it did huge amounts for me, I think it did a lot for him as well.”
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.