Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

A woman who said she was denied a public defibrillator when her mother had a cardiac arrest has spoken of her heartache, anger and shock.

When Lian Scotto D’abusco from St Mellons in Cardiff collapsed in the early hours, her daughter Courtney said she was told by emergency services to have a pacemaker “available around the clock” that the public could use from a nearby nursing home before the paramedics arrived.

But the 23-year-old said the Willowbrook House nursing home would not let her use the life-saving device — and claimed she was told it was not available to the public.

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Her mother Lian was driven to the hospital and according to doctors, she suffered a 15-minute brain injury while not breathing. Her family says they were told she had a “shocking heartbeat”, which meant she needed a defibrillator as soon as possible.

Lian died seven weeks later of pneumonia at just 43 years old. Doctors said it was not possible to say that Lian would still be alive if the defibrillator had been used on her – but say that a person’s chances of survival and recovery are generally massively improved the faster it is used.

But daughter Courtney said her mother could still be alive if she had been able to use the device – and insists it could have improved her mother’s recovery time in hospital.

Courtney recalled the tragic night of April 24 and said: “[My mum] came into my room around four in the morning and said she had a chest pain and asked me if I would come down to look after her. So I went down and not even a minute later she collapsed. “

Courtney called the ambulance, which she said instructed her to go to Willowbrook House, a nursing home in St Mellons that got a defibrillator for public use in 2014.

Courtney handed over her phone to her father, who did CPR on Lian before she “ran off” to the nursing home and arrived there in just two minutes.

“I jumped out of my car and knocked and knocked. I was approached by this one woman. I was just really startled and I was like, ‘Can I get defib? The ambulance wants me to come and pick it up. My mother is not breathing. ‘She said,’ Oh, two seconds, ‘and I thought she would get it. “

But instead, Courtney said the woman returned with two other staff members who told her not to make the defibrillator available to the public.

“I said, ‘Well, the paramedics sent me here.’ And I could not even call anyone because I gave my phone to my father, I had nothing on me – so I could not call the police, I could not call the ambulance people, I could not call anyone to confirm, “she said.

She estimates she was there for “a good ten minutes” and tried to convince nursing home staff to give her the defibrillator, but claimed they looked at her as if she were talking “gibberish.”

“[A member of staff] told me she does not know what I’m about and that she must not give it to me, “Courtney said, adding that the employee told her” I do not even know who you are “and advised her to perform CPR on her mother instead.

“They let me stand outside. I was wearing my pajamas and robe. I was literally crying and panicking. I was just so shocked.”

She continued, “I was like ‘Oh god, what am I going to do?’ because I had this responsibility to get my mother defib and I could not get it.

“Of course I feel really guilty about it, and I feel like I could have done more, but they did not even open the front door for me, so there was nothing I could have done.”

Going home empty-handed was “heartbreaking” for Courtney.

“I thought I could really have helped her,” she said.

She added that the time she spent at the nursing home was “crucial” to her mother, who suffered 15 minutes of brain damage while not breathing.

“It was important for her healing, because if she did not have so much brain damage, she would have come faster, and then she would not have got pneumonia and so on.”

Lian Scotto D'abusco with her husband Brian
Lian Scotto D’abusco with her husband Brian

By the time Courtney had returned home, two ambulances had arrived. Paramedics performed CPR before using their own pacemaker on Lian, whose heart kept stopping and starting.

Lian was blue-lighted at the hospital, where she spent seven weeks in treatment. After contracting pneumonia, she sadly died on June 11th.

The day she died, doctors explained to Courtney that cardiac arrest does not make a difference in some cases of cardiac arrest.

Courtney said, however, that in her mother’s case, doctors told her the device was needed to get her heart back to the right rhythm.

“When I talked to one of the doctors when she died, I asked her about the defib situation and she said, ‘I can not say whether it would have helped her or not, but she had a shocking heartbeat, which meant she needed a defibrillator as soon as possible ‘.

She added: “I was just really shocked that the ambulance told me to go there and then none of the staff knew what I was talking about”

Courtney said there is now a sign next to the defibrillator at the nursing home stating that it should be handed out for public use, which according to a friend who works there, was set up by the manager the day after the incident in April.

The defibrillator supplier also explained in a letter to Courtney that they gave the defibrillator to Willowbrook House way back in 2014 and stated at the time that it was for public use.

The ambulance service also confirmed to Courtney that the Willowbrook House is on the system to have a defibrillator that the public can use.

“But of course the staff was not told it was for public use,” she said. “No one ever knew to give it to me. They said someone had ever come for it. So obviously I was the first person to come after it in St Mellons, so they did not know they were going to give it out. There was a mistake there. “

She has since received an apology from Willowbrook, but she said they insisted they “acted accordingly” with their knowledge of the defibrillator.

“No one has taken any responsibility, which is why I’m taking it further. Now that someone else is going back there, they’ll be able to give it to them. I’m really happy about that.

“But it should never have happened in the first place, and it could potentially have saved her life. It could have prevented her from getting so much brain damage, which would have helped her recovery time. It was just such a knock-on effect.

“And whether she died or not, it’s just so crazy I would have been denied it.”

Going forward, Courtney calls for greater awareness of defibrillators for those who need them, and better communication between those who deliver and keep them.

“You start losing your brain calls after five to six minutes [of lack of oxygen to the brain].

“A defibrillator can make a huge difference, which is why they are in the community and a few minutes away from everyone. They are such a necessity.

“Everyone should know where the defibers are, and everyone who has the defibers should know exactly what to do when someone comes to ask for it.

“I think a lot of people are not aware that the defibrillator is for public use, and it’s not just for that place.”

She added: “There should be better communication between the ambulance service and the people holding defib.

“There should be principles in place to make sure people know exactly what to do.”

Looking back, Courtney said she was “so disappointed” with what happened to her mother that night.

“She really did not deserve it. If you met her, she was one of the nicest people ever. She would do anything for anyone. For that to happen, I just can not believe it.”

Willowbrook House declined to comment.

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