Dad should have died on the football pitch. His teammates saved his life

Just a few days after his 60th birthday last year, Keith Wilson and his son Louis, then 23, went to play 5-a-side football as they normally did on Fridays.

However, this match – on March 11, 2022 – was far from normal. Keith suffered a terrifying cardiac arrest on the pitch and narrowly avoided dying thanks to the quick thinking of those around him.

Although Keith, from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, has no memory of the 15 minutes before the incident, Louis recalled: ‘Me and dad were just kicking the ball around by the side of the pitch after warming up.

‘I turned around to see him collapse backwards onto the floor. His body was really tensed up and he wasn’t breathing properly.’

Louis shouted for help and checked his dad’s airways, before two other players with first aid training (one of whom said he’d done little more than put a plaster on in his 30 years as a first aider) rushed to Keith’s side and began performing CPR.

Thankfully Adam, a firefighter whose child was playing on the youth team, also ran over to help the group. He continued resuscitation and gave guidance so a defibrillator kept on the grounds at Bournside School in Cheltenham could be used on Keith.

These swift actions saved the dad-of-two’s life, making him one of the mere 10% of people who survive after an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. By giving him CPR in the first two minutes, these heroic individuals doubled Keith’s chances of pulling through.

‘It was only once the chest compressions had started and the de-fib was being used that I was able to process the situation,’ commented Louis.

‘Watching the de-fib being used was a horrible experience, but I am very grateful that I was there that day to help in the first instance and get him the help he needed.’

The Great Western Air Ambulance Charity (GWAAC) was then called, with land paramedics attending the scene in a critical care vehicle.

While Keith’s pulse had been restored, he was still unconscious, so medics performed a heart trace and supported his breathing before taking him to the nearest cardiac specialist unit at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

‘Next thing I knew I woke up on the bed in the ambulance,’ said Keith, who works in a sales role in the rail industry. ‘I was struggling physically. But once in the BRI I recovered well.’

Despite the fact he had been to the doctor for breathlessness when exercising two months prior to this, Keith’s collapse was unexpected as ‘this symptom always subsided quickly when [he] stopped’ and he had been ‘sent home with some beta blockers and aspirin.’

‘I feel that I was very unlucky in the respect that I am fairly fit, have never smoked, am only slightly overweight, eat and drink sensibly and exercise regularly,’ he told

‘However I am also incredibly lucky that my son Louis, football team mates, Adam the fireman, the ambulance crew, and the GWAAC team were all in the right place at the right time to give me the best chance of survival.’

After spending a week in hospital – where he said the care he received was ‘excellent’, Keith was able to go home.

He recovered quickly and was ‘up and about in a couple of days,’ adding: ‘The only real pain was the bruising of my ribs from the CPR. Following that I took it very easy but was back walking and cycling in a few weeks.’

Keith had a stent fitted to help his breathing, and within four months he was back on the pitch playing football once more.

Both he and the football club wanted to present Adam the firefighter with a special award for his actions that night, but when Keith walked up to give him it, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

He commented: ‘That’s when it hit me. I welled up, I felt very emotional. I didn’t expect to feel emotional.

‘We had a chat after, and Adam said luck was on my side. He also said he doesn’t often get to meet the people he helps from his day job.’

Keith has since climbed Ben Nevis with his two sons, saying: ‘Despite my age I feel fitter now than I have for a long time.’

He and his family are endlessly grateful for the help of everyone there that evening, with Louis adding: ‘We are so thankful for the ambulance team, the fire brigade, his team mates and Adam the off duty fireman for taking control of the situation and saving my dad’s life.’

Air Ambulance Week

Air Ambulance Week 2023 takes off across the UK from September 4 – 10, with air ambulance charities across the UK delivering the vital message that Air Ambulance charities can’t save lives without you.

Air ambulance charities collectively make over 37,000 missions each year across the UK, with 37 air ambulance helicopters operated by 21 air ambulance charities providing pre-hospital care support to the NHS and forming an important part of the UK’s frontline emergency services.

These charities receive no day-to-day government funding and depend almost entirely on charitable donations to deliver their lifesaving care. 

To show your support for Air Ambulance Week, you can make a one-off donation to Air Ambulances UK on the website, or get in direct contact with your local air ambulance charity.

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