"I finally met the man who saved my life" says actor who collapsed backstage in Preston aged just 22

A young actor has finally met one man responsible for saving his life after he suffered a cardiac arrest backstage.

By Jessica Hubbard
Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 3:45 pm
Life-saver Martin Poltorak with his daughter - who is an aspiring actress - and actor Gary Tatham. Photo by Terence Chapman.
Life-saver Martin Poltorak with his daughter - who is an aspiring actress - and actor Gary Tatham. Photo by Terence Chapman.

Gary Tatham, now 25, was preparing for the penultimate performance of his graduate show ‘Clybourne Park’ when he collapsed backstage in 2018.

Then 22, Gary had suffered a cardiac arrest and was later found to have Wolff-Parkinson White syndrome: a congenital condition which causes electrical problems with the heart.

It was the actor’s sixth performance of the UCLan production but he collapsed into props before finishing the show and was found by a fellow cast member known as ‘Ally’.

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“It has been a very weird three years,” Gary said, “The last memory I have was when I was backstage checking if my mum had arrived and she was in the audience.”

Ally alerted director Terence Chapman who immediately stopped the show.

Gary said he ‘can’t remember much’ of what happened and that it was ‘all so sudden’ but there is one man who certainly remembers that day.

UCLan security guard Martin Poltorak rushed to Gary’s aid after being alerted to the emergency.

He was one of several staff and cast members who kept Gary alive for 40 minutes using a defibrillator and CPR until he was stable enough to travel to the Royal Preston Hospital.

Martin said it was a normal day at work when he was called to an emergency.

“I remember it quite clearly- I was working and I was the first to put my hands on him," he said.

“I was in the area and went to the theatre to found him unresponsive on the floor."

The security guard said he had been trained to respond to casualties who weren’t breathing or had no pulse but it wasn’t immediately clear what was wrong with Gary.

“I put the defibrillator on him and ripped his shirt because I realised he could be dying," Martin said.

“I then did CPR for another 10 minutes when the ambulance arrived.”

Martin heard that Gary was recovering in hospital an hour later and vowed that he would meet the actor when he was next in Preston.

“I saw that Gary was going to be in a play and I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet,” he said.

“It was the perfect location because he was back on the stage.

“He was very emotional- we hugged and talked about his recovery and the play.

“I’m pleased he’s doing OK and he’s such a brilliant actor.”

Gary does not remember Martin’s actions on the day but credits him as one of the people who saved his life.

“It was a race against time and Martin told me yesterday that he didn’t want to give up on me because I was 22 years old," Gary said.

“That’s such a young age to suffer a cardiac arrest so he just kept going.

“He said he was thinking of his daughter when he did it and my mum was also there so he just kept going.”

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The security guard made sure he was at the opening night of Preston Playhouse and UCLan’s graduate production of ‘Angels in America’ yesterday so that he could finally meet Gary.

Gary plays two roles in the graduate show and was able to meet both Martin and his daughter, who is an aspiring actress.

Martin said he would ‘remember the moment forever’ and praised the whole cast for their performances.

The play is a collaboration between UCLan and Preston Playhouse and the cast is made up of 2021 acting graduates.

The production is being directed by Terence Chapman- one of Gary’s former lecturers who he credits with helping to 'get him back on his feet'.

“When I graduated it was hard,” Gary said.

“I didn’t have enough time to settle down and reflect and when I graduated, everything hit properly.

“At that time I was a bit lost and I didn’t really know where my life was going.”

But Mr Chapman stepped in and invited Gary to take part in several UCLan showcases.

“I was still dealing with depression so I think going back to showcases really helped me get back on my feet and back to my career.” Gary said.

Terence, who is also the acting course leader at UCLan, said: “Gary had such a difficult end to his time as one of our students, nobody could have predicted what happened to him, and thankfully he’s made it through and is here to tell the tale.”

Written by Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Angels in America' follows two couples as they navigate the aids epidemic and right-wing politics in 1980s New York.

More information about the UCLan and Preston Playhouse production, which is running until June 5, can be found here.

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