Staff at a call centre thought their young colleague had fallen asleep at her desk, when she’d actually had a cardiac arrest – aged just 21.
But optimistic Imogen Guest, now 22, looks back on the ‘horrible’ ordeal as ‘one of the best things that ever happened’ to her as it’s given her a new outlook on life.
The customer service call handler at Virgin Atlantic, in Crawley, West Sussex, had only been in the job for a few months last June, when she collapsed at her desk without warning.
Colleagues thought Imogen had decided to take a nap before realising how serious the situation really was.
She said: “I don’t remember much about the whole incident but I was told that people thought that I had fallen asleep at the desk.
“It was only when they couldn’t wake me up that they realised that something more serious had happened.”
Her colleagues moved Imogen to the floor, performed CPR and shocked her with the on-site defibrillator as South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) paramedics rushed to the scene.
The job was remembered particularly well by John Waghorn, who was first on the scene alongside colleague Jenny Hannaway.
He said: “It was quite surreal because I used to work in that exact same building so know some of the staff there.
“They did a fantastic job and gave us a good basis to build on.”
Air ambulance paramedics arrived soon after and spent an hour stabilising Imogen, before she was driven to East Surrey Hospital.
Imogen’s mother, Jane Guest, was dumbfounded when she rushed to her daughter’s office only to be met with four ambulances.
Normally fit and well, she was aware that her daughter hadn’t felt right a few days earlier but couldn’t pinpoint what it was.
Jane said: “There wasn’t anything that you could say definitely was a sign of what was to come.
“Like most things you tend not to think they are serious and why would you?
“Imogen has always been very active, fit and well. There isn’t any family history of heart problems.”
Jane was returning home from work when she received an out-of-the-blue call from her niece’s husband. Unable to take the call immediately due to poor signal, Jane called back as soon as she could.
She said: “My niece also works at Virgin and Imogen’s boss was aware of this and got a message to my niece so that she could let me know what had happened.
“It was an incredible shock. I couldn’t really take it all in when I first found out.
“All I knew was I needed to get to her.”
And it was she arrived at the office that the seriousness of Imogen’s condition began to dawn on Jane.
She said: “When I got there and saw four ambulances outside, I thought are they really all for Imogen?
“Nothing can prepare you for it. It was a complete shock. You just don’t expect it will happen to you.”
Imogen spent two weeks recovering in hospital before having a small internal defibrillator fitted above her heart.
She is now back working at Virgin Atlantic, who have trained more staff in First Aid and the use of a defibrillator since the incident, and was even able to meet the crew who saved her life.
Imogen said: “Meeting them all was strange at first because they knew everything about me and I didn’t have a clue who they were.
“We all had tea and cake and talked about what we have been up to, it was great and very chilled.”
But the “horrible” incident has given the call centre worker the determination to make the most of her life.
She said: “It was a horrible event but one of the best things that ever happened to me.
“It has been an emotional year with ups and downs but as a family we are getting through it.
“When something like this happens to you, it does make you see things differently.
“I have a brand new outlook on life; things that used to annoy me like little rows with my mum or even road rage don’t bother me anymore. I am so chilled out.
“It has also made me realise how lucky I was.
“I do feel like I want to give back though and going to the survivors event was part of that. I have already run 5K for the ambulance service and am planning on taking part in the Reigate Run next year.
“My cardiologist told me live life, so that’s what I’m going to do.”