Wellington Free Ambulance paramedic Matt Hitchiner, right, teaching Wairarapa farmers lifesaving skills. PHOTOS/REBECCA KEMPTON

Hayley Gastmeier

If a loved one’s heart stops beating, CPR can be the difference between life and death.

A 20-minute investment of your time could result in saving the life of a stranger, friend, or family member.

Preparing the Wairarapa community to respond in the event of a cardiac arrest is Matt Hitchiner’s mission.

The Wellington Free Ambulance paramedic is working towards his goal of having someone within every five-kilometre radius of the Wairarapa region trained to perform CPR and use a defibrillator [AED].

“Having worked for the London Ambulance Service in central London, and now for Wellington Free Ambulance in beautiful Wairarapa, I have witnessed my fair share of tragedy and joy.

“What I have come to realise is that there comes a day when the body dies, regardless of what medical help is offered.

“However, in a small proportion of these people there remains the potential for continued life, with the beginning of this possibility literally lying in the hands of our community.”

Matt Hitchiner.

Matt is Wellington Free Ambulance’s Wairarapa Heartbeat Coordinator, heading the CPR training programme offering lifesaving skills free of charge to the community, thanks to the Lloyd Morrison Foundation.

“Wairarapa is an expansive area, but my vision is to ensure that no matter whether rural or urban, there will be people in the community that have been trained to perform CPR and use a defibrillator until our paramedics arrive to take over.”

Wellington Free Ambulance statistics show four people on average have a sudden cardiac arrest in the Wairarapa and Wellington area every week.

Twenty-six per cent happen in public places. Early CPR can increase survival rates to nearly 30 per cent, and using an AED can increase the chance of survival by 80 per cent.

Heartbeat aims to teach whānau, businesses, and community groups what to do in an emergency, how to perform CPR, and where to find and use an AED.

Participants will also learn about the phone app, Good Smartphone Activated Medics [GoodSAM].

If a GoodSAM responder is within 1000 metres of a suspected cardiac arrest they will receive an alert via their phone giving them the opportunity to respond. The app also shows responders the location of the incident and the known closest AEDs.

“The more people on the app, the more people who will be able to respond and the greater chance someone has to live.”

The Heartbeat programme has been running successfully in Wellington for about 10 years.

Matt said because of Wairarapa’s rural nature and large area, ambulance response times can be longer than in cities.

That’s why community members knowing how to respond in the event of an emergency was so important.

“This community is so small – everybody knows someone – it could be your mate who needs help.”

Over the next six months, Matt and the Heartbeat team will be trialling the project tailored for the Wairarapa community.

The key skills can be learned in as little as 20 minutes. These brief sessions are ideal for the rural sector or businesses that are short of time.

Matt said from one to 1.5 hours was a good timeframe if groups wanted to have questions answered.

So far he has worked with Henley Men’s Shed, with further sessions planned.

“The first Masterton men’s shed Heartbeat training session was very successful, and it was a pleasure to teach such a practical group.”

Henley Men’s Shed member Mat Nolan said while he had previous first aid training, he got a lot out of the session.

“It was absolutely useful. Matt was a very nice guy and full of knowledge. He was up with the play with every question that we had for him – it was a brilliant course and personally I got a heck of a lot out of it.”

Henley Men’s Shed coordinator John Bush said the aim was to get at least 100 of the shed’s 157 members trained in CPR and using an AED. He was looking forward to the next training session at the shed on February 17.

Matt, who has been working as an ambulance officer for five years, said training everyday people to be able to help in an emergency was a passion that drove him.

“The surge of optimism that we get when arriving at a scene to find a community member already performing CPR is what has spurred me to be part of the Heartbeat project.”

He said any group, business, or organisation could contact him to arrange a Heartbeat session at heartbeat.wairarapa@wfa.org.nz.

  • A public event about the programme will be in Masterton, Carterton, Greytown, Featherston, and Martinborough on March 28, visit www.wfa.org.nz/heartbeat for more information.