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East Meath man thanks paramedics who gave him the gift of life


Jim, Joey and James Shields, with one of their public defibrillators at the Black Bull, Drogheda.

Jim, Joey and James Shields, with one of their public defibrillators at the Black Bull, Drogheda.

Life-savers: paramedics Liam McCole and Paul O'Neill, with Joey Shields (centre).

Life-savers: paramedics Liam McCole and Paul O'Neill, with Joey Shields (centre).


Jim, Joey and James Shields, with one of their public defibrillators at the Black Bull, Drogheda.


Now the picture of health, Joey Shields looks across at the two paramedics by his side and says “It’s great to see you lads, the last time you saw me I was dead!”

He can joke about it now, but this is the first time the 25-year-old East Meath man has got to personally thank Liam McCole and Paul O’Neill, the two paramedics with the National Ambulance Service who brought him back to life after a cardiac arrest last Christmas.

An ironic twist to the tale is Joey’s dad Jim has trained many people in CPR and use of defibrillators, and he, his wife, and two children all took turns to administer CPR while waiting on the emergency services to arrive.

“No words can express how grateful I am to you both,” says Joey, who up until his attack was a fit and healthy young man. “But it also shows you the importance of being trained on CPR, because without that, and the care from Liam and Paul, I wouldn’t be here today.”

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Liam and Paul say it is very special to be able to sit with someone whose life they have saved.

“It’s few and far between that we can actually sit down and have a chat with someone after we’ve done what we do,” says Liam modestly. “Joey was only 24 when it happened, and most people expect someone to be 50, 60 or 70 when they have a heart attack, but as we saw in the World Cup last year, it can happen anyone, and we’re lucky to be sitting beside Joe now.”

Joey’s dad, Jim, volunteers with East Meath Defibrillator Unit and is trained in cardiac first response, and attended a number of cardiac episodes where he provided care in advance of the paramedics.

Joey took ill a few days before Christmas last year, and Liam and Paul were on the scene with minutes of the call.

“I know Jim well, and it was not unusual to see him at the scene administering CPR, but when we took over, he whispered to me ‘that’s my son’ and it was a great shock to hear that,” says Paul. “There was no more rapid response from us than there was from Jim and his family, and it shows the effects of early CPR and the positive outcome.

“It’s great job satisfaction to be sitting here with Joey, as he fits into a small category with regard to the percentage of survivors.”

A carpenter by trade, Joey doesn’t remember much of the cardiac arrest that momentarily took his life, but his family does.

“I was in my room, and the last thing I remember was standing up, then I must have collapsed, as I woke up a few days later in hospital,” he says. “I know my mam Kathleen heard the thud from downstairs and she ran up and when she realised I had no pulse or breath, called the ambulance and started CPR.”

Joey’s brother James picks up the story.

“I was working just a few minutes away, when Mam rang me and said he wasn’t breathing, and me and Dad were there in minutes and took over the CPR,” he explains. “We are all trained in CPR and we acted fast as a family, and thankfully got the outcome we hoped for, and he is living proof that CPR works!”

When Joey was taken in the ambulance, he had a pulse, but the worry didn’t stop there.

“It had come out of the blue, and we feared the worst for a while, because he was put into a coma for a few days to give his body a chance to recover,” explains his brother. “But there had been a lack of oxygen to the brain for a while, so of course we were worried there may be damage, but when he came around, he was asking where his phone and wallet were, so I knew he was okay!”

Jim Shields has made it his life goal to train as many people as possible in emergency first response, but never dreamed he would have to carry it out on his own son.

“From 2012, I decided to put one defibrillator up in the square in Bettystown and trained six people, and now they’re all over East Meath and Drogheda – 19 at the moment and more to come, and now we have trained over 600 local students in secondary schools on how to do CPR and use the public defibrillator units,” explains Jim, a native of Belfast who has lived on the East coast now for decades. “But when it falls on your own doorstep, nothing can describe how that feels, and when you see familiar faces arriving to work on your own son, you know you are in safe hands.”

If you are interested in learning CPR or getting involved with your local cardiac first response group, email cfr@hse.ie