People in Hong Kong who aren’t in a hospital when they are stricken by sudden cardiac arrest face grim odds – with the survival rate estimated at a mere 1 to 3 per cent, according to the Hong Kong College of Cardiology.
It is therefore truly fortunate that Philip Wong is alive and well today.
Just five days ago, on the searing hot Saturday of June 8, the avid cyclist was found lying unconscious at the side of the road alongside his bicycle at Sunny Bay, Lantau Island. Wong had a heart attack, and if help hadn’t arrived as soon as it did, he would have most likely been a statistic.
In fact, the chain of events that have unfolded since the incident makes this nothing short of a miracle.
I first found out about Philip – well, I only knew him as “crazy cycling uncle” then – from my good friend Michelle. At about noon on Saturday, a couple of hours before she was to give me a lift to Repulse Bay for her baptism, she told me I had to make my way to the beach on my own as her “crazy cycling uncle” had gotten into an accident and was in ICU.
Later that day, I received a forwarded email from my triathlon club teammate Kent with the subject: “Sad news”. The original email was from another cyclist Glyn Pearson to the Lantau Buffalos’ cycling group mailing list:
“This morning I stopped to help give CPR to a lone cyclist who was lying at the side of the road between Disneyland and Sunny Bay turn off,” Pearson wrote. “No one seemed to know who he was, what had happened nor how long he had been without assistance.
“He had not overtaken me as I did my usual route around Disneyland (a not too difficult task) and I had winched myself up from Disneyland towards Sunny Bay at a snail’s pace too, so I am guessing he had been there some minutes without any help.
“The ambulance services were very quick in reaching the scene (five minutes or so) but I fear that although our CPR did get him breathing before they arrived, the poor fellow showed little signs of life as he was taken off to hospital.
“To the two other riders who stopped, and in particular the chap named Andy who worked so hard to keep the CPR up, chapeau to you both. To whoever the fellow is, I wish him well and I truly hope our efforts were not in vain.
“Folks, be careful out there.”
At this point, the connection between the email and Michelle’s uncle didn’t click in my mind. Like the rest of Hong Kong’s tight-knit cycling and triathlon community who heard the news, I felt sad for the victim and hoped for the best for him. On Sunday morning, at the Splash ‘n Dash race at South Bay, my teammates and I were still talking about the incident and wondering about the victim.
It wasn’t until yesterday night that it all came together. While saying our goodbyes after a Tuen Ng barbecue at a friend’s place, my good friend Sandro – who is Michelle’s fiancé – asked me if I knew of any cyclists who had stopped to help a guy lying on the side of the road last Saturday at Sunny Bay.
Sandro explained that the guy was Michelle’s uncle, who had had a heart attack while riding his bike and would have died if not for the people who helped. Sandro showed me a photo of himself and a happy, healthy-looking Philip they had just taken together at the hospital. Philip’s family wanted to thank the good Samaritans, but didn’t know who they were.
Of course I knew, of course I had heard, and – of course – that was Michelle’s uncle!
I quickly contacted my triathlon club teammate Gigi, whom I had spoken to on Sunday about the incident. Gigi had cycled by the scene that Saturday morning and saw Fenella and Michael from Tritons triathlon club looking after the victim’s bike alongside some policemen.
“When we passed by, they asked us if we knew the owner of the bike,” said Gigi.
Having worked with Michael – that’s Dr Michael Tse, the assistant director at Hong Kong University’s Institute of Human Performance – on a few stories for my health section in the SCMP, I immediately dropped him an email. I also sent an email to Pearson and the Lantau Buffalos mailing list.
And I email blasted whoever I knew in the cycling/triathlon community to try to look for the first two riders who stopped – including “the chap named Andy” – because they were the key ones who saved Philip’s life.
This morning, through Michael, we managed to find out who they were.
“My good friend Varo was the first on the scene and had the common sense to quickly call 999 after finding Philip unresponsive,” said Michael. “He then called me as I was only just back in the car park, after which we rushed over.
“But it was his sense to get help from another cyclist named Andy – who knew how to perform CPR – that was so timely. If everything had lined up just slightly differently, the outcome would have been totally different.
“When they put Phillip in the ambulance after shocking him with the AED, I thought it didn’t look so good. We were quite concerned and even after the ambulance left and we stayed back until the police came to give information and make sure that his bike was taken care of.
“We sent pictures around of his bike to all the triathlon clubs in Hong Kong to see if anyone recognised it, and I even called one of the local shops that sold that brand of bike, but they didn’t know.”
It turns out that all the characters in this story are connected – a real surprise for me, but I guess not so unexpected in a small city like Hong Kong.
Michael used to be colleagues with Michelle’s father Patrick in the mid-1990s at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, where Michael was the strength & conditioning coach and Patrick was the director of corporate services.
Each minute after cardiac arrest, a victim’s survival rate drops by 7 to 10 per cent. In Hong Kong, an ambulance can reach the patient within 10 to 12 minutes of an emergency call – most likely too late. Philip’s survival, as Michael put it, is indeed a miracle.
Pearson was elated to hear the news this morning.
“Thank you so much for letting me know that Philip is on the road to recovery,” he said in an email to me. “I had tried to find out more from the hospital, but as I did not know his name it was proving difficult to get any news at all. Your news is possibly the best start to a day I could receive!”
For me, I truly believe there are no coincidences in life. God was watching over Philip all along, just as he is watching over all of us – and has somehow intertwined all our lives together.
Get certified in CPR
Only about 12 per cent of Hong Kong's population would know how to revive a person who collapsed in front of them from a heart attack.
The number of people who have received some training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) compares to 52 per cent in Australia and is below the ideal level, according to the St John Ambulance Association.
Professor Yu Cheuk-man, head of Prince of Wales Hospital's Division of Cardiology, says the first three minutes after the heart stops beating is the critical period. Most people who die of sudden death fail to get prompt medical support.
"If resuscitation and electrical shock are administered to the patient in a timely manner, there's a 70 per cent survival rate. The survival rate drops by 10 per cent for every minute that passes," says Yu.
The HKSAR Government website  lists a few organisations that provide first aid certificate courses recognised by the government.
In addition, the Fire Services Department offers a training course of cardiopulmonary resuscitation for family members and friends of cardiac patients free of charge. For more information, call the Fire Services Ambulance Command Training School at 2640-3708.
For people who are certified, remember that you need to take a refresher course every two to three years. I am due for mine after getting my certification about three years ago.