How double heart attack led to 10-year friendship for patient and paramedic
- Credit: Ella Wilkinson
A decade ago he was starting his long journey of recovery after being brought back to life from two heart attacks in one day.
And such was the gratitude of Hellesdon kitchen fitter Chris Hardesty to the paramedic who saved his life the first time round, he said thank you in person - a meeting which proved to be the beginning of an enduring friendship.
A decade on, Mr Hardesty and Kevin Watkinson, from Attleborough, as well as their families, remain as close as ever.
Mr Hardesty, 55, who has two grown-up children with his wife Tina, said: "We are like brothers. We were automatically close. His family treat me as part of their family. I buy his children Christmas and birthday presents and his children call me Chrissy boy."
The kitchen fitter was described as "a chap with a heart of gold who would do anything for anyone", by Mr Watkinson, who has been a paramedic with the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust for 18 years.
They first came in contact with each other on December 5, 2011, after Mr Hardesty, then aged 45, fell ill while working on a kitchen in Thorpe Marriott with his son Danny, then aged 21, who worked with him at the time.
Despite feeling unwell, he told his son, now 31, not to call an ambulance and to drive him home instead.
But he ignored his dad's instruction - and Mr Watkinson quickly arrived at the family home in Reepham Road with a colleague and immediately identified that the 55-year-old was having a cardiac arrest.
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Recalling the emergency, which featured in the Evening News 10 years ago, Mr Hardesty said: "My son thought I was having a stroke. One minute I was fine and the next I felt so ill. It put me on my knees.
"When I got home I fell onto the floor - I was that bad. But somehow I crawled onto my sofa.
"Kevin took one look at me and said 'you are having a heart attack. You need to go to hospital'. He was so kind and calm."
After 30 minutes of work to stabilise My Hardesty in his home he had a heart attack in the ambulance in front of his wife and was resuscitated in a couple of minutes through chest compressions and a defibrillator used by Mr Hardesty.
Later that day he also had to be brought back to life again during an operation at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital while two stents were put into an artery.
Despite leaving hospital two days after the operation and months of rehabilitation, the kitchen fitter said it took him several years to recover, mainly because the ordeal affected his confidence and mental health.
But around six months after leaving hospital Mr Hardesty was determined to say thank you in person to Mr Watkinson, who was noted in his hospital records.
"I went to the Costessey ambulance station and asked someone if they knew Kevin. He was there and I told him who I was. We had an embrace and a few tears."
After keeping in touch on Facebook Mr Watkinson and Mr Hardesty and their families started spending time together through meals and drinks. He even fitted the paramedic's kitchen around four years ago.
The 55-year-old said he is grateful to have survived because if it had not been for the quick actions of his son and the paramedics he would not have experienced time with his first grandchild, Ruben, two.
He said his heart is now healthy and added: "It is unbelievable what paramedics do. We owe them so much."
Mr Watkinson, 44, who is one of the city's cycling paramedics, said: "It was really nice to get thank you from Chris. I didn't expect anything like that though because I was just doing my job.
"I really value his friendship. I love my job and a rescue like this one makes it all worthwhile."
He emphasised the importance of calling 999 if people felt chest pain because "time is crucial".