GREAT-GRANDFATHER Brian Whitaker has seen many rollercoaster emotional moments in his 76 years.
But watching his beloved wife of 57 years collapse from a heart attack in front of his eyes, and then bringing her back from the brink of death, beats them all.
Lifesaving hero Mr Whitaker, of Beeston, Leeds, was forced to perform emergency CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) on wife Ann, 75, after her heart stopped suddenly.
Ambulance bosses have praised his calmness in the face of huge personal distress.
Under than one in 10 cardiac arrest patients survive but the risk of saving them doubles if CPR is started before the ambulance arrives.
The couple were enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon at home when the frightening events unfolded.
Mr Whitaker recalled: “It was terrifying. It happened right here.
“I just heard a big gasp and I said ‘Ann, are you all right?’
“I could see she wasn’t breathing. She had no colour whatsoever. I knew there was something very seriously wrong.”
He dialled 999 and was put through to an operator.
“I was still in panic mode speaking to her,” he explained.
“I was so frightened. The operator said ‘you need to listen what I’m telling you’.
“Then she told me exactly what to do, where to place my hands on top of the other.
“She kept counting ‘one, two, three, four’ and told me to keep the rhythm up, and not to stop until the medical people arrived.”
Mr Whitaker said the moments that followed “seemed like forever”, but a paramedic actually arrived within three or four minutes.
“He got the oxygen mask out and said ‘I’ll take over now’. I still wasn’t sure.
“I thought I had lost her. But he told me ‘you’ve got her breathing’.
“All they knew was her heart had stopped. She had definitely gone for a few minutes.”
Mrs Whitaker was transferred to Leeds General Infirmary to intensive care, and had a defibrillator fitted to monitor her heart. She is now back at home recovering.
Her husband has won praise for his level-headedness and quick actions which saved his wife’s life.
But he is very keen to thank the “absolutely brilliant” 999 operator -– as well as staff at Leeds General Infirmary.
“Fortunately with the help of that lady I did what I needed to do,” Mr Whitaker said.
“They have been praising me, but I don’t feel like a hero. To me, that lady was the real hero.”
Mr Whitaker, a retired driver and former RAF man, met the love of his life at Mecca dance hall when they were both 16.
The couple have a big family, with 23 great grandchildren and 19 grandchildren.
Mr Whitaker said his wife is the linchpin, life without whom would be “unthinkable”.
The pair had been due to fly to Benidorm to celebrate Mr Whitaker’s 76th birthday, which was yesterday, as well as Valentine’s Day.
“But having Ann here with me is the best present I could ever ask for,” he said.