Interview: Pro Dr Tamsin Lewis saves a life on training ride

Long distance pro, Tamsin Lewis, was called into emergency action on a training ride last week when she had to use her skills as a trained practitioner to save a life. Cycling down the Tourmalet in the Alps, Lewis came across the scene of a bike crash where the victim appeared to be unconscious and not breathing.

I caught up with Tamsin, who recovered from the incident to fight for a 4th at the Gerardmer XL Tri just days later, to find out what happened and how the end of her season is looking.

Hi Tamsin, tell us a bit about the accident you came across and how you managed to help?

I’ve been staying out in the Pyreenees as guests of Pyreenees Multisport (@tripyreenees) getting some quality training in. After spending 6 days in bed with gastroenteritis, I was keen to climb some Cols again and the Tourmalet was on the top of my list.

I rode out with a friend and after ascending the infamous mountain we turned and descended. Ahead I saw a man on what looked like a Brompton bike swerve on the road and trying to brake. He then slid off the bike and hit the road. Cars were behind him but they slowed to a stop. I caught up pretty quickly and assisted him to the side of the road. He was coherent but a little dizzy. I got him to sit down, removed his helmet (which had a large crack in it) and asked him if he was in any pain. He mumbled a few words and then turned very pale and grey… Its a colour I have seen before and it usually indicates a bad prognosis.

Then his eyes rolled up in his head and he emitted a loud snore… then stopped breathing. I could not find a pulse.  I immediately  started CPR with one blow to the front of the chest (cardiac thump) which sometimes can send the heart from an abnormal rhythm back to a normal rhythm (it didnt on this occasion) and then fast strong chest compressions.

After 30 of these I blew into his mouth (some say this doesnt help but I felt I should try in the absence of any other response).. 2 breaths .. No response still… I did another 30 chest compressions and tried again with the 2 ‘rescue’ breaths. This time he coughed loudly and came around. Very pale and with barely a pulse that I could feel either in the neck or at the wrist, but he was awake.

Soon he came around a bit more and was talking and was mostly coherent. The emergency services had been called at this time but they spoke very little english so someone else was talking to the doctor on the line explaining the situation. It took an hour from calling the services to the local ‘Pompiers’ and paramedics to arrive. The mans blood pressure on arrival was 80/50 which is very low and his pulse was very weak.

I helped to get him onto a stretcher and into the ‘ambulance’. The man was awake at this time, and was able to thank me for my help and ask for my address. My school girl french somehow got me through the whole encounter with a bit of help from google translate.

It is difficult to say why this man reacted how he did to the accident. The crack in the helmet was telling that a head injury may have been sustained but he was orientated to time and place. It may have been that the shock of the accident in someone that was underprepared for riding the Tourmalet on a hot day,  sent his heart into an abnormal rhythm which meant he wasn’t able to maintain sufficient cardiac output and his blood pressure was hence very low.

That must have been quite a shock, your background as a medical practitioner must have been vital in that situation…

I definitely switched to doctor mode. It has been a while since I worked in an emergency/A&E environment, but basic CPR (resuscitation) techniques were drummed into me well at medical school and as a junior doctor. As soon as he stopped breathing and I couldn’t palpate a pulse I went into automatic mode. The adrenaline kicked in as I knew that if I didnt do the chest compression deep/hard enough they may not be effective at all. To be honest at the start I thought I would have lost him – seeing the colour he went so quickly. It was truly amazing to have him cough back to live.

I do think, anyone can learn basic CPR though and potentially help save a life. Its not rocket science, but keeping calm in such situations is often the most difficult thing.

I understand the gentleman involved might not have been using the best equipment for the challenging route you were on. What lessons might be gained, in your opinion, for all cyclists on the Tourmalet following the crash?

The man was definitely ill prepared. A brompton-esque bicycle loaded with paniers/rucksacks on a steep busy descent is not ideal.

I’m not one to suggest dont go out, have fun and ride mountains, but it is worth bearing in mind that if you are alone, minimising risk is key. The man was objectively dehydrated as well.

The fact that the emergency services took so long to arrive was frightening. If I hadnt been cycling down that mountain, at that time chances are he wouldn’t be here today.  Educate yourself on basic aspects of resuscitation, it may one day save a life.

It seems inappropriate to ask given the context of our chat, but returning to racing – what’s next for you this year?

I just raced a hard hilly middle distance race in Gerardmer, France (you can read the report here). A very trying day especially after some nasty person tried to sabotage my race (after I swam over him) but unzipping my wetsuit 100-200m into the race.

I was half sinking for the whole swim after it filled with water, I must remember to tuck in the pull-cord next time. The bike was freezing but I just got through it and pulled up to 3rd and then suprisingly ran well (its only been a few weeks since i’ve been back run training after a stress fracture) for a 1.29 22k on the rolling on/off road course.

Next up is Ironman Provence 70.3 (France) and then I will be going to Hawaii for the Ironman medical conference and to work in the medical tent, which I’m pretty excited about that learning experience. The it’s back to racing at Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote and Ironman 70.3 Phuket to finish things off.

Thanks Tamsin and best of luck for the remainder of the season.



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