Real Life

Mum walking a marathon for the people who saved her life

A Kiwi mum is giving back to St John ambulance after a terrifying ordeal.

Savitri Bailey is saying a huge thank you to the people who saved her life by walking the Auckland Marathon to raise cash for St John Ambulance.

On the morning of February 19, 2012, Savitri woke up an energetic mum-of-three facing a rosy future together with her partner – now husband – Braden. Yet that evening, her life changed forever when she collapsed in the bathroom of their family home at One Tree Point in Northland.

Braden initially thought Savitri had fainted. It was only after seeing his partner turn blue that he realised the seriousness of the situation and dialled 111. He carried on with CPR until a St John ambulance arrived 15 minutes later. Savitri, who had gone into cardiac arrest, was revived with two shocks from a defibrillator.

The 29-year-old was taken to Whangarei Hospital where she was diagnosed with catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT), which is characterised by abnormal heart rhythms, and put in an induced coma for two days.

“Without a doubt, I would be dead without those two St John Ambulance volunteers,” explains Savitri. “I’ve always felt in debt to them since they saved my life. I’m not wealthy, so I can’t give back in that way, but by walking the Auckland Marathon, it is my way of giving back.”

Savitri now has a defibrillator in her chest and has to take regular heart medication. The road to recovery has at times been painstakingly slow, but thanks to the unwavering love and support of her family, she has been able to battle through the tough times.

She initially suffered memory loss, blinding headaches and permanent fatigue. She admits the first six months after the cardiac arrest were hard.

“I had young children and life at home changed dramatically. I was used to doing lots of physical activities with the kids, when, suddenly, I was either in bed or on the couch sleeping.

A lot of the time the kids were watching movies while I rested.

“Cooking dinner was fun and games,” she adds, shaking her head. “I regularly burnt myself because it would take a few seconds for my brain to process that my hand was hot.”

It was also tough for Braden.

“I didn’t know who I was or what my role was. It was a rocky road,” Savitri remembers.

As a “wonderful distraction”, the pair, who had met on the internet just a year before, tied the knot in a ceremony in October 2012 at Tangihua Lion’s Lodge.

Yet the former King Country woman still had a fight on her hands. Two years after the incident, Savitri struggled to cook a family meal. She also suffered chronic chest and arm pain caused by the defibrillator, which became so intense, she considered removing the device.

In a desperate final attempt to alleviate the pain, she underwent acupuncture. It proved an inspired decision.

“After the first session, I noticed a big difference and after a few weeks, the pain had gone,” she says.

Today, Savitri still lacks energy, is prone to memory loss and struggles to drive long distances. But thanks to the support of Braden, the family have grown closer.

“In some ways, kids are very resilient. When I had my cardiac arrest, they were young and didn’t know any different,” she says of her two stepkids – Tyler (12), Keira (9) – and daughter Samara (6).

Since, she and Braden have welcomed Pippa, who arrived last August.

“I’m incredibly lucky to have Braden.

“For him to stand by me was absolutely amazing. He was a young guy who could have run a mile, but he was prepared to look after me 100 per cent.”

For Braden, who had been attracted to Savitri’s bubbly, fun-loving personality, it was no sacrifice.

“I don’t think you realise how much you love someone until you are put into that situation,” says the 37-year-old insurance manager. “It’s an emotion I’d never felt before, but I was prepared to give up work to support her, if that was required.”

But frustrated with no longer being able to run and keen to repay her debt to the St John Ambulance, just three months since she gave birth to Pippa, Savitri set an ambitious goal.

“I had always wanted to do the Auckland Marathon but had never managed it,” she explains. “I really missed that exercise rush and it ate away at me. Flicking through the paper one day, I thought, ‘Bugger it. If I can’t run, I’m going to walk it.’”

Since her decision to tackle the 42.2km distance, one of the men who helped save her life – Blake Manihera – will be walking with her on October 30.

“The two men [Blake and fellow volunteer James Owen] have become my friends,” she says. “For Blake to walk alongside me at the marathon means a lot to me. I guess you could say they are my heroes.”

Words: Steve Landells

Related stories

Get NZ Woman’s Weekly home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 29% on a magazine subscription.