Atul Rao, a US student studying in London, expressed his gratitude to the National Health Service (NHS) medical professionals who saved his life after his heart stopped six times due to a pulmonary embolism.
Fellow students found him collapsed, and a security guard initiated CPR until paramedics arrived. Hammersmith Hospital staff worked tirelessly to stabilise Atul, and after several cardiac arrests, clot-busting drugs began to work. He was transferred to St Thomas’ Hospital but recovered without the need for life support.
During a recent visit with his family to Hammersmith Hospital, Atul pledged to pursue a medical career, inspired by the doctors, nurses, and paramedics who saved him. This decision comes after he had doubts about his original career choice before his cardiac arrest.
He said: “Before this happened, I was starting to wonder if I was doing the right thing doing medicine and whether I should be going into business instead. But the minute I woke up I knew. I want to use my time in a productive way. I want to use my second chance at life by helping others.”
His mum, Srividhya, a Maths professor in Seattle, said: “A really bad thing happened in a really good place. Everyone who worked around Atul wanted him to be well. It’s clear they love and care about what they do. I feel blessed to be here and I’m so thankful and grateful to you for giving my son back to me.
“I have gained perspective about life and he gets to see it at such a young age. His life has changed, and it’s had a profound impact.”
Atul agrees. Having spent his 21st birthday in a hospital bed with his parents and some student friends he said: “Most 21-year-olds want to go out drinking. Given how dangerous my situation had been, I was grateful to be here and have people who love me around to celebrate.”
Dad Ajay, who works at a software company, remembered how London Ambulance Service Advanced Paramedic (APP) Nick Sillett broke the news that Atul was critically ill from the scene via his son’s mobile. He showed Nick the barely legible notes he took during the call, his hands shaking, and spoke of his agonising flight over to London after knowing decisions were being made which could affect whether his son would live.
Remembering a turning point, Ajay said: “At the start Atul was sedated. I used to call St Thomas’ Hospital ICU in the mornings after the doctors’ rounds to ask for news and one morning they said ‘hold on’. Then I heard Atul come on and say ‘hey, dad’. It was the sweetest ‘hey, dad’ I have ever heard and I wanted to run to him right away.”
Thanking the NHS staff, he added: “I’m not exaggerating, Hammersmith and St Thomas’ hospitals have become places of worship for us. We will be coming here whenever we come to London.
“It was the heroic efforts of London Ambulance Service, the amazing medical teams of Hammersmith, St Thomas’ and Royal Brompton that saved him from this life-threatening series of events.”
The couple did not have much time to appreciate London on this first visit. So concerned were they about their son in the immediate aftermath of his recovery, they walked by Big Ben for several days on the way to St Thomas’ Hospital before realising they were passing the iconic landmark. Every time they heard an ambulance pass they say they were praying for the patients inside and the medics who would be caring for them.
APP Nick Sillett, said the reunion had been very emotional. “The last time I saw Atul I didn’t think he was going to survive. To meet him again and speak with his parents after giving them such terrible news was a very special moment in my 18 years in this job. Knowing we managed to save Atul gives me courage and hope should I encounter that situation again.
“The LAS crew first on scene also were the real heroes in recognising so quickly he was in cardiac arrest and managed to give him a chance.”
Dr Louit Thakuria, a Critical Care Consultant at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust’s Hammersmith Hospital, said: “It’s not often you see 20-year-olds have a cardiac arrest and it’s even more rare to see someone who has had six cardiac arrests in one day make such a miraculous recovery.
“This was a real team effort and so many people helped ensure Atul was able to be here. It’s a privilege to be a part of that and hear that you have helped make such a positive impact.”
Dan Taylor, an intensive care and ECMO consultant at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Atul had a very challenging combination of problems which required input from multiple specialist teams. Thankfully his heart failure improved and he was able to avoid ECMO, but he spent several days critically ill in the intensive care unit.
“The whole team are delighted that Atul has made such a great recovery, and we wish him the very best in his medical career in the future.”
Following his recovery from multiple cardiac arrests due to a pulmonary embolism, Atul is undergoing tests to identify the underlying cause of the blood clot. After medical clearance, he has returned home to the US.
Atul’s case underscores the vital role of prompt chest compressions in cardiac arrest situations. The London Ambulance Service’s “London Lifesavers” campaign aims to train residents to respond effectively during emergencies, significantly improving survival chances through early chest compressions and defibrillation.
Learn how to become a London Lifesaver here.