Amy Symes and George Scott are a most unlikely pair.
At 29 and newly engaged, Amy is a St John first-aid tutor and volunteer ambulance officer, while George is a hard-living cockney from East London. A former risk manager turned part-time farmer and artist, at 62, he's more than twice her age.
But they are kindred spirits who have forged a forever friendship through the most horrific of circumstances.
The pair met – if meeting is the right word – earlier this year. Amy remembers it vividly. George doesn't remember it at all.
It was early morning, Saturday, May 25. Amy had just clocked on when a call came through to the St John's Helensville base. A car had ploughed off the road, through a fence and into a paddock on the outskirts of Kaukapakapa. The driver had suffered a heart attack. That driver was George.
Bystanders recalled seeing a vehicle driving erratically down the road and George slumped over in the driver's seat. Two eye witnesses rushed to help.
Smashing a window and using bolt cutters to detangle fence wire that had wrapped around the car door, they pulled George out of the wreckage. While one cleared his airway, the other started CPR.
Firefighters arrived and hooked up an oxygen mask, but George was clinically dead by the time the two St John crews arrived, comprising Amy, Connor Sinclair, Dan Spearing, Murray Baird and Amanda Horlock.
It was a hugely emotional moment for Amy. Her dad Alistair had died in similar circumstances when she was just 13. Seeing George lying in the paddock that morning in May brought memories of her father flooding back.
"Dad died on the side of a country road, the same as George. He had a motorcycle accident, so it wasn't an arrest like George's, although it resulted in one in the end.
"What really hit me was that it was a country road and when you're in the middle of nowhere, the chances of survival are a lot lower than if you're in the city, so we were all thinking, 'What are the odds here?'"
As distressing as it was, the crews' years of paramedic training kicked in and each of the team grabbed part of the medical kit required. They raced to his side. Amy was in charge of operating the defibrillator, so it was Amy who pushed the button to shock George's heart.
All up, about 25 people had a role in saving George's life – the bystanders who went to help, the volunteer fire crew, the St John crews, the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust crew who transported him to Auckland Hospital, the emergency team there and later the North Shore Hospital team. Emergency services call it "the chain of survival".
George, who coincidentally is around the same age as Amy's father would have been, considers himself the luckiest man alive.
He, too, has had his share of heartache – his youngest son died at 10 in a sand tunnel collapse and a little more than two years ago, he and his wife Marion lost everything when their house burned to the ground.
"The last thing I remember," he says, "was leaving for work on the Friday and then waking up on the Monday afternoon as I was being transferred from Auckland City Hospital to North Shore Hospital."
He found out later that he'd missed hitting a power pole by the width of a cigarette packet. He also found out, during a get-together last month to thank those involved in his rescue and to make sense of it, that it had been Amy who had given him the shock that ultimately saved him.
"It wasn't until everyone started saying their bit that I realised I really was almost beyond the point of no return.
"But the person that stood out when I heard the stories was Amy. I cannot begin to comprehend what people like Amy and the others do. When you look around, there's a lot of a-holes out there," he says with typical forthrightness.
"She is such a gorgeous young lady – full of life, full of enthusiasm – and then you see what she does. It just blows me away. "
Amy is quick to point out she was "just part of the team" who saved George's life.
In fact, she credits George with helping her. Her father's death was a reason she became an ambulance officer, but subconsciously she'd been struggling to resolve her feelings about it. George's rescue helped her do that and reminded her why she loves the job, and why we need to look out for each other.
"After Dad died, we all tried to accept it in our own way. It took a survivor in an ambulance for me to really come to terms with it and accept what's happened. I'm very grateful to him. I told him, 'Thank you for living.'"
Adds George, who received stents during his emergency surgery but continues to live life to the full, "I've worked in an industry that's produced a lot of money for an awful lot of shareholders for what purpose? I look at Amy. Without her, I'd be dead. Simple as that. Who's more valuable to society?
"This is about celebrating her and the rest of the team. In a way, it's about celebrating her father. I'm not religious, but if there is such a thing as heaven, would he be looking down going, 'I'm bloody proud of you'? I'm sure he would be."
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