It was a split-second decision on her last day of work that nobody ever could have predicted would save her mother’s life.
Carly Ryan, a regional manager at the Royal Life Saving Society and sister of ex-football star Beau Ryan, was heading out the door of her office to go on leave when she decided on a whim to grab the defibrillator from the wall, given it had would have no use in a locked building over the Christmas break.
She put in in the boot of her car and drove home, giving it no more thought.
That was until the early hours on January 14, when she awoke to the nightmare of her father Kym screaming for her upstairs.
Her mother Robyn, a fit and healthy 63-year-old grandmother with no pre-existing medical problems, had woken complaining of chest pains before abruptly going into sudden cardiac arrest.
Kym sprung into action.
“I screamed out twice and I told Carly [what was happening],” he says.
“And on the second occasion, ring an ambulance.. and I went straight back in and I started CPR on Robyn.”
That’s when Carly realised she had the very tool that would give her mother the best chance of survival.
“I ran down to the car – I felt like I was running on air – and got the defib,” she says.
“My partner called Triple Zero at 4.29am and by 4.30am we had the defib on mum.
“We were all acting on instinct and adrenaline.”
The survival rate in Australians experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest away from hospital is about 10 per cent – but rapid defibrillation in the first few minutes can increase the odds to more than 70 per cent.
The defibrillator, which delivers step-by-step verbal instructions to users and analyses the patient’s heartbeat via chest pads, delivered a first shock to Robyn.
Nothing happened, so Kim continued CPR.
Next came another shock with no response, so Kym restarted CPR again.
After a couple of minutes came the first sign of life the family was desperately hoping for: Robyn opened her eyes.
Her pupils were dilated and she didn’t respond to them calling her name.
Now onto a third round, the defibrillator performed another heart analysis and delivered the good news: “no shock advised”.
“I looked at mum – she started moving her arm and fluid was coming out of her mouth,” Carly says.
“She could kind of hear us but not see very well and I could tell she was regaining consciousness.
“After about another 30 seconds, she started to move and come to.
“The paramedics walked in about another 30 seconds after that.”
The paramedics were stunned by what had happened in the time between receiving the call and arriving at the house in Warilla, a suburb of Wollongong.
“The intensive care paramedic kept walking between the bedroom and us, shaking his head and saying, ‘I can’t believe it’ – he had never seen anything like it,” Carly says.
“We did everything right but the clincher was that we had the AED [automated external defibrillator].”
Robyn says she is cherishing family time after her brush with death.
“I’m good now,” she says.
“I don’t want to go there [thinking about it too much] because so many bad things could have happened.
“I’ve got beautiful friends and family. I’m very fortunate, very fortunate.”
Her daughter also feels lucky.
“Now I’m fortunate enough to still have my mum,” she says.
“And my dad has his wife. My brother has his mum, the kids have still got their grandma.
“[We are] so lucky.”
Carly, who has worked for Royal Life Saving for 10 years and is now regional manager for the Illawarra region, wants to tell her story to 9News viewers in the hope it will help others who find themselves in similar situations.
She emphasises that anyone can use a defibrillator – you don’t need special training – as the device contains simple directions and “talks” through the process with audio instructions about what to do.
It will only deliver shocks if the patient need them, as it analyses their heartbeat first.
“They are foolproof,” Carly says.
“All you do is turn it on and it talks you through it from there.”
Defibrillators are commonly located in publicly accessible places such as train stations, shopping centres, gyms and sporting facilities.
About 33,000 Australians have a sudden cardiac arrest each year.
For every minute that passes, the chance of survival falls by 10 per cent.