Keith Fairhurst, the stepdad of squash champion Laura Massaro, was brought back to life by staff at a Lancashire fitness centre after suddenly being struck by a cardiac arrest.
He talks to Aasma Day about how he was revived by a defibrillator while playing squash in almost exactly the same circumstances as his friend, who collapsed at the same gym.
They say lightening never strikes in the same place twice, but Keith Fairhurst shakes his head ruefully when he hears this as he knows it simply isn’t true.
Keith, 53, who is the stepdad of squash star Laura Massaro and lives in Whittle-le-Woods, near Chorley, with wife Jill, played squash regularly himself and says the sport is an important part of his family’s life.
Keith, a member of David Lloyd Leisure in Chorley, since it opened, visited the centre daily, taking part in a number of sports, as well as playing squash.
Around 18 months ago, Keith had just finished playing squash himself and settled down to watch his friend Harry Chan play a game when, to his horror, Harry, who was just 37 and very active, suddenly collapsed after suffering a cardiac arrest and was brought back from the brink of death by quick-thinking staff who shocked his heart using a defibrillator.
They discovered I had a faulty heart valve and had it all my life.Keith Fairhurst
Remembering that day vividly, Keith says: “Harry and I have been friends for six or seven years and met through playing squash.
“What happened to Harry was a huge shock as you never would have thought something like that would happen to someone like him.
“Harry was young, fit and healthy and seemed an extremely unlikely candidate for heart problems.”
Gladdened by Harry’s full recovery thanks to rapid defibrillator treatment, Keith put the incident to the back of his mind, although it underlined the importance of defibrillators.
He certainly didn’t expect almost the exact same thing to happen to him while playing squash at the same centre.
Keith and wife Jill have three children between them, including Jill’s daughter Laura Massaro, the world champion squash player.
Keith, managing director of a small manufacturing company and a granddad-of-one, was active before the incident. He went to the gym every day, went mountain biking and played squash.
It was while playing squash one morning a few months ago that the drama unfolded.
Keith recalls: “I was playing squash with a friend and, in a nutshell, I fainted.
“I came round and I remember feeling confused. At first, I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I had just fainted.
“But then I quickly realised it was something more serious as there were so many people around me.
“My wife was there, there were a few people in tears and there were people working on me, so the penny suddenly dropped.”
Just like his friend Harry, Keith was revived with CPR and had a defibrillator used to shock his heart.
In fact, some of the same David Lloyd staff who saved Harry’s life also revived Keith.
Keith says: “While I was lying there, what happened to Harry went through my mind and I was trying to think about what would happen next.
“When Harry suffered his cardiac arrest, it was a big shock.
“I wasn’t as fit, as young or as healthy as Harry, but I still didn’t expect it to happen to me.”
Keith was taken to Chorley Hospital where he spent five days in the cardiac unit. He was then transferred to Blackpool where he spent a month while medics investigated the cause of his cardiac arrest.
Keith explains: “They discovered I had a faulty heart valve and had it all my life.
“Basically, the same thing happened to me that happened to comedian Ted Robbins when he collapsed on stage.
“But instead of on stage, I collapsed on the squash court.
“So while the circumstances between what happened to me and Harry were almost identical, the reasons behind it were very different.
“Before the cardiac arrest happened, I had no indication that I had heart problems.
“In hindsight, I can now see there were signs but I thought I was just getting less fit as I couldn’t do as much as I used to.”
Keith had a new heart valve fitted and had a heart bypass. He also had cardiac ablation, a procedure to improve the rhythms of the heart.
Joking, Keith says: “I had a full 53-year service.”
Keith has recovered well from his ordeal and is now back at the gym and mountain biking, although he hasn’t yet returned to playing squash.
Keith says words cannot express the gratitude he feels to staff at David Lloyd for saving his life and says his experience has reiterated the importance of defibrillators.
He says: “If it had happened to me while I was out mountain biking somewhere rural, I wouldn’t have stood a chance.
“If it wasn’t for David Lloyd having the defibrillator and trained staff, I might not be here and Harry might not be here.
“Although in both our situations, the ambulance arrived within 10 minutes, you never know what damage would have been caused in that extra time without a defibrillator.
“Words cannot express how grateful I am to David Lloyd staff and I am so glad they have a defibrillator on site.
“Defibrillators really do make the difference between life and death and there should be more of them throughout the community.
“There should be defibrillators in places where there are a lot of people and where people are going to be exercising in its widest sense. We also need more people trained in how to use them.
“For me, my cardiac arrest couldn’t have happened in a better place.
“What happened has changed my outlook in a lot of ways.
“Things that used to wind me up in the past don’t worry me any more.
“It gives you a greater sense of perspective of what really matters.
“I feel wonderful now and extremely lucky. I am grateful I have had the chance to get on with my life.
“I am not back playing squash again yet, but am hoping to do so. Squash is a very important part of my family’s life and is something I will still want to be involved in.”
Rob Hawksworth, operations manager at David Lloyd Chorley, said: “We have had our defibrillator at David Lloyd Chorley for about six years. The first time we used it was on Harry and now we have used it on Keith in almost exactly the same circumstances.
“Saving two lives like this just goes to show how worthwhile it is having a defibrillator and making sure staff are trained in how to use it.
“I have just got back from a defibrillator course and I deliver training to the team.
“It is wonderful to know the difference we have made to these two men’s lives and luckily they both got a second chance and made a great recovery.
“What happened to both Keith and Harry shows why it warrants the time and effort in having a defibrillator and training staff.
“We want our centre to be safe for our members and we are happy Harry and Keith have recovered well and are still coming to David Lloyd.”