As Matthew O’Toole sat sweating and nauseous on a bench, many passers-by simply walked straight past him.
But one woman felt she had to stop to help — and swiftly realised that Matthew was having a stroke. She called 999.
Now, Matthew, a 47-year-old father of two, from Farnham, Surrey, is making a good recovery.
As has been widely reported, his wife Georgina, 44, set about tracking down the Good Samaritan online, to thank her personally for what she did for Matthew that day last month — and the two are now in touch.
Such a scenario is not as uncommon as it may sound. We spoke to three people who nearly died — and the strangers who saved them — about their dramatic rescues and the bonds that have since formed between them.
Passing motorists restarted my heart
Lynda Donaldson, 61, suffered a cardiac arrest outside the fish and chip shop she owned with her husband Graham, 54, in Saintfield, Co Down, Northern Ireland.
Michelle McAvoy, 50, a school nurse from Bangor, came to the rescue, performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Michelle lives with her husband, Michael, 52, a civil servant.
Lynda says: I remember suddenly feeling dizzy and seeing black, then I was out cold on the floor. I’d had a cardiac arrest. Graham shouted for a passer-by to call 999.
I awoke looking up into the face of a stranger who I now know was Michelle. I wasn’t sure what had happened but heard people discussing CPR and ambulances, and remember thinking: ‘That doesn’t sound good.’
Apparently, Michelle was driving past, saw what happened, jumped out of her car and began performing CPR. It took the ambulance 12 minutes to arrive and Michelle did CPR for more than five minutes to keep the blood pumping around my body. Without that, I might not have survived.
Lynda Donaldson, 61, suffered a cardiac arrest outside the fish and chip shop she owned with her husband Graham, 54, in Saintfield, Co Down, Northern Ireland. Michelle McAvoy, 50, a school nurse from Bangor, came to the rescue, performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
A first-aid instructor, Phil Batt, also happened to be passing in his car with a defibrillator, which he used to shock my heart into starting working again. Later, in hospital, the consultant kept saying: ‘You don’t know how lucky you are.’
Tests showed that the most likely reason for my cardiac arrest was an irregular heart rhythm with no obvious cause. I had an operation to place a defibrillating device in my chest, to start my heart should it stop again.
Fortunately, Graham had taken Michelle’s number, so a few weeks after this all happened — in January 2011 — I met up with her for a coffee. We both cried and seemed to bond instantly.
The experience changed my life. Graham and I trained as CPR instructors and set up a commercial first-aid training company.
Michelle and I meet several times a year. If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t be here. She’s my guardian angel and a wonderful friend.
Michelle says: Lynda’s skin was purple and her mouth was open like a stranded goldfish gasping when I saw her lying on the pavement with a very distressed man beside her. I hadn’t performed CPR on someone in cardiac arrest since I was a student nurse 20 years earlier — but instinct kicked in.
By a stroke of luck, another passing motorist happened to have a defibrillator with him. He set up the machine, which delivers an electric charge to the heart to shock it and start a normal rhythm, while I continued CPR.
By the time the ambulance arrived, Lynda was breathing again.
I was so relieved when Graham phoned to say she was going to be all right. I still well up when I see Lynda looking so well and getting so much out of life; and I think what might have been . . .
He grabbed my coat to stop me jumping
Reya Pettitt, 25, a former market researcher, lives in Woodingdean, East Sussex. She was talked out of jumping from a bridge in January 2020 by Ken Mitchell, a management consultant who is in his 50s, from Lewes.
Reya says: Teetering backwards on the parapet of a bridge over a busy road, I felt my heels hanging over the edge. I didn’t look down. I wanted to get it over with quickly.
I’d been planning my death for a week. I spent that day walking around Brighton, where I had lived for my entire life, and got the bus to the place where I planned to end it.
It was getting dark and I climbed out over a safety barrier and edged towards the middle.
After a few minutes, people in cars started to notice me and began shouting. I froze.
Suddenly, this man appeared beside me on the road side of the barrier — he had run across the road from his girlfriend’s car.
Reya Pettitt, 25, a former market researcher, lives in Woodingdean, East Sussex. She was talked out of jumping from a bridge in January 2020 by Ken Mitchell, a management consultant who is in his 50s, from Lewes
He was calm and softly spoken, said his name was Ken and asked me mine.
I said nothing; I just looked down at my feet. But he caught hold of my coat and pulled me closer to the barrier and told me that if I jumped, he was coming with me as he wasn’t letting go. I began to feel calmer.
Ken got me talking about how I had reached this point. I told him I’d been sectioned nine times in two years and said how I’d always struggled to fit in and had been labelled as disruptive at school, and how although I’d got into university, I didn’t finish my course.
Ken shared that he’d had dark days, too — his wife had died after several years of breast cancer. I think the compassion he showed me just made me reconnect with life. Eventually, Ken coaxed me into taking tiny steps towards the side of the bridge. He was constantly gripping my coat tight.
When I reached the side, I agreed to step back over the safety barrier. We hugged; Ken told me I’d be OK now and I was taken to hospital.
That night proved to be a turning point in my life, mainly because I have since been diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and autism, both of which I believe were behind my previous mental health and educational difficulties, and I have been prescribed the drug Ritalin, which helps me to focus and stay calm.
Last October I appealed on Facebook for Ken to get in touch so I could thank him. The message was shared thousands of times — and hours later, he messaged me. We have texted regularly since.
He put his own life at risk in saving me; and I will never forget that.
Ken SAYS: When I spotted Reya high up on the bridge outside the safety barrier as me and my girlfriend Sue drove past, I knew I had to try to save her.
While Sue called 999, I raced across to Reya and seconds later I was holding on to her coat. I was terrified she was going to jump. Reya’s face was blank and emotionless, and she seemed wary.
I told her: ‘I’ve got you now and if you jump, we are both going over together.’
I told her about losing my wife, Marita, to breast cancer five years before. We had been together for 25 years and losing her was the worst thing that had ever happened to me, but slowly I found a way to carry on.
As Reya and I talked, we quickly built empathy and I could see expression coming back into her eyes. But my hands were getting numb with cold — the effort of gripping her was so intense, I worried I might let go by accident.
Gradually I coaxed her to the side of the bridge and, one hour and 25 minutes after I’d stopped to help, Reya finally stepped over the barrier to safety. I felt elated.
But the next day I started shaking and couldn’t stop for three days. I kept reliving the scene.
I didn’t know what had happened to her, so it was lovely to hear from her a few months later.
Meeting Reya and her mum to have the picture taken for this article was just incredible — I had tears in my eyes when I saw Reya (but I told her it was hay fever).
We have an unbreakable bond now and I know that I will be in contact with her until I die.
Aneurin saved me despite covid risk
Bobby Gamlin, 56, a former security guard, collapsed on a shopping trip near his home in Cardiff in February.
Bobby Gamlin, 56, a former security guard, collapsed on a shopping trip near his home in Cardiff in February
He is a widower and has a son and three stepsons. He was saved by Aneurin Metcalfe, 23, who works for a building supplies company in Cardiff and lives with his partner Lauren, 18, a nursery nurse.
Bobby says: I felt dizzy when I was out walking, so I crossed the road to rest on a bench. The next thing I can remember is waking up in intensive care.
I was later told that Aneurin found me slumped in a flowerpot and gave me CPR while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
This was during the Covid pandemic, when most people were worried about getting infected. I don’t think many other people would have stepped in to help — but Aneurin did.
Doctors found I’d had a cardiac arrest. I was overwhelmed to learn I’d been saved by a stranger.
My sister Mary posted a message on a local Facebook group and Aneurin’s friends saw it.
When we spoke on the phone I was very emotional, almost lost for words. I still get choked up thinking about what he did for me.
Aneurin said: ‘Someone shouted that an ambulance was coming but I felt it would be too late’
Aneurin says: Six people had gathered around Bobby outside the supermarket.
Bystanders were filming him on their mobile phones — I think some of them thought he was drunk. But I could see he wasn’t breathing and his skin was grey.
Someone shouted that an ambulance was coming but I felt it would be too late. Something just kicked in and I moved through the crowd and began chest compressions. I’d attended a weekend first-aid course when I was a 15-year-old Sea Cadet and although I’d learnt CPR, I had never had to use it.
When I started the compressions, I felt his ribs crack. Some bystanders heckled me but I knew I had to keep going for what felt like the longest ten minutes of my life, until the ambulance came.
It wasn’t until friends saw a Facebook post from Bobby’s sister that I knew he’d made it. I felt such relief — it’s the biggest achievement of my life.
By chance, I bumped into Bobby in the street! I was walking into a shop when his friend recognised me and introduced us. He got quite emotional. It’s nice to think Bobby is still here today because of me.