Craig Vercoe and Sharon McDonald reunited after Craig saved Sharon’s life at the Nelson Half Marathon earlier this month. Photo: Andrew Board.

Half marathon a heart stopper

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Craig Vercoe expected to get his heart pumping during the Nelson Half Marathon last week – he didn’t expect to get someone else’s pumping before it.

Craig was on his way to register for the half marathon at Saxton Field last Sunday when he saw one of the entrants in the walkers race, which started earlier, had collapsed. He rushed over and got to local woman Sharon McDonald at the same time as a St John medic.

Sharon had had a heart attack, so Craig started to perform CPR while the medic went to fetch a nearby defibrillator.

After six minutes of CPR and at least two shocks of the defibrillator, Sharon’s pulse finally returned just as an ambulance arrived.

Sharon was loaded into the ambulance and Craig was left standing there shocked when he wife asked him if he still wanted to compete. “Well, it’s what we came for,” he told her.

Craig raced to the start line with just minutes to spare before taking off and completing the race.

He says it was a good decision.

“It just gave me a chance to take my mind of it and focus on something else. I was really shaken up. As much as the training [for CPR] tries to teach you what it will be like, it’s totally different.”

After the race Craig went home and wondered if Sharon had made it.

For Sharon, the last thing she remembers of that day was driving to the half marathon and feeling “really excited”.

She’s been told since that while being flown to Wellington Hospital she had two more heart attacks and woke up to see her Melbourne-based son at her bedside.

“I thought it was a dream because my stepson was there too.”

When she did come around she was told what had happened and that a man had saved her life. “I have to meet this man I told my son.”

Late last week Sharon, who lost her husband to a heart attack in February, was transferred to Nelson Hospital where she spent another few days recovering. Her son had been in touch with Craig earlier in the week to thank him and update him on his mother’s condition.

“I went in to meet Sharon on Saturday at hospital and it was really weird. I had never seen her before in my life so the only image I had of her was unconscious and being loaded into an ambulance. To see her awake and talking was strange.”

Sharon says she felt an instant connection with Craig. “It is very spiritual and I feel like we have this connection.”

Craig says the big lesson he got from the experience is how important doing a first aid course is.

“One thing I’m quite proud of myself for is that I didn’t hesitate, I just got right in there. If I hadn’t done the first aid and just stood there unsure of what to do, I would have really hated myself.”

“You never know when you’re going to come across something like this, it could be one of your family members. I think a first aid course is a social responsibility and courses should be free.”

On that point, Sharon couldn’t agree more. She says she will be forever grateful to Craig.

“I just can’t thank him enough, he’s saved my life.”

She also wanted to thank her fellow parishioners at Annesbrook Church for praying for her “and God”.