A 21-year-old student whose heart stopped six times in one day is using his second chance to pursue a medical career.
Atul Rao told NHS staff he had planned to pursue business after finishing his medical degree – however, the minute he woke up from the heart attacks he knew he wanted to stick to medicine.
Paramedics saved Rao’s life after fellow students found him collapsed in Imperial College London.
A security guard gave him CPR until London Ambulance Service crews turned up and got his heart beating again.
He was taken to Hammersmith Hospital and diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism, where blood clots in the lungs block the flow of blood through the heart.
During the first 24 hours Rao’s heart stopped again and again – five more times.
Eventually the clot-busting drugs set in and his heart started to tick reliably, but he was critically unwell the next day.
Rao was sent to St Thomas’ Hospital just under seven miles away where he had access to a life support system that could replace the heart and lungs, allowing patients the time to heal, known as a extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO.)
But the student made a “remarkable recovery” without needing an ECMO.
He was discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital two weeks after the first heart attack on July 27 this year.
Rao from Seattle in Texas, was in his final year of a pre-med degree at Baylor University, Waco, which would allow him to study a further degree to practice medicine.
Speaking to Hammersmith Hospital staff months after the incident, joined by his mum and dad, he said: “Before this happened, I was starting to wonder if I was doing the right thing doing medicine and whether I should be going into business instead.
“But the minute I woke up I knew. I want to use my time in a productive way. I want to use my second chance at life by helping others.”
Recalling spending his 21st birthday in a hospital bed he said: “Most 21-year-olds want to go out drinking.
“Given how dangerous my situation had been, I was grateful to be here and have people who love me around to celebrate.”
His dad, Ajay Atul, works at a software company, and showed the NHS staff the barely legible notes he made when he got the call about his son.
He said: “At the start Atul was sedated. I used to call St Thomas’ Hospital ICU in the mornings after the doctors’ rounds to ask for news and one morning they said ‘hold on.’
“Then I heard Atul come on and say ‘hey, dad.’ It was the sweetest ‘hey, dad’ I have ever heard and I wanted to run to him right away.”
“I’m not exaggerating, Hammersmith and St Thomas’ hospitals have become places of worship for us. We will be coming here whenever we come to London.
“It was the heroic efforts of London Ambulance Service, the amazing medical teams of Hammersmith, St Thomas’ and Royal Brompton that saved him from this life-threatening series of events.”
His mum Srividhya Atul, a Maths professor in Seattle, said the NHS staff clearly care about what they do.
She said: “A really bad thing happened in a really good place. Everyone who worked around Atul wanted him to be well.
“It’s clear they love and care about what they do. I feel blessed to be here and I’m so thankful and grateful to you for giving my son back to me.
“I have gained perspective about life and he gets to see it at such a young age. His life has changed, and it’s had a profound impact.”
The couple did not have time to appreciate the capital on their first visit.
They did not realize that they were walking past Big Ben every day to see their son at St. Thomas’.
Every time they heard an ambulance pass they prayed for the patients and medics, they said.
Parademic Nick Sillett, who treated Mr Rao and broke the news to his parents, said meeting the family again months later was emotional.
“The last time I saw Atul I didn’t think he was going to survive.
“To meet him again and speak with his parents after giving them such terrible news was a very special moment in my 18 years in this job.
“Knowing we managed to save Atul gives me courage and hope should I encounter that situation again.
“The LAS crew first on scene also were the real heroes in recognizing so quickly he was in cardiac arrest and managed to give him a chance.”
Dr. Louit Thakuria, a Critical Care Consultant at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust’s Hammersmith Hospital, said Rao’s recovery was miraculous.
She said: “It’s not often you see 20-year-olds have a cardiac arrest and it’s even more rare to see someone who has had six cardiac arrests in one day make such a miraculous recovery.
“This was a real team effort and so many people helped ensure Atul was able to be here.
“It’s a privilege to be a part of that and hear that you have helped make such a positive impact.”
Dan Taylor, an intensive care and ECMO consultant at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Atul had a very challenging combination of problems which required input from multiple specialist teams.
“Thankfully his heart failure improved and he was able to avoid ECMO, but he spent several days critically ill in the intensive care unit.
“The whole team are delighted that Atul has made such a great recovery, and we wish him the very best in his medical career in the future.”
Doctors are investigating what caused the embolism.
It can be triggered by a lot of air travel, and once doctors agree it’s safe he will be allowed to return home.
The NHS added that Rao’s case shows how important it is to receive good chest compressions.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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