Luther actor who survived brain aneurysm used tai chi on operating table to will himself to meet unborn granddaughter
An actor who appeared in Eastenders, Doctors and Luther, says he had an “extraordinary near-death experience” on the operating table after suffering a sudden brain haemorrhage and near-fatal seizure, during which he performed tai chi exercises in his mind – willing himself to survive and meet his unborn granddaughter.
Jason Riddington was rushed to hospital in June 2021 after his wife, Team GB show jumper and personal trainer Faye Riddington-Smith, 47, found him collapsed on the floor and saved his life by performing CPR on him while awaiting an ambulance.
During surgery to coil the brain aneurysm he had suffered, the 54-year-old from Derby, who lives in Buckinghamshire, said he became aware and started doing a basic tai chi routine in his head.
Jason “knew he was dying”, but the Chinese martial art helped him to focus on the then-unborn Leila, who is now one year old.
“I saw this man wearing what I can only describe as the fancy dress outfit of a crow, with long feathers along his torso and a black beak,” he said.
“My daughter Emily was heavily pregnant at the time and we knew it was a little girl.
“I became aware of Emily and remember saying out loud ‘No I need to meet her’ because I knew that this was it, I was dying.”
Less than a month later, Jason had a near-fatal seizure and had an “identical” brush with death.
Almost two years on, Jason still suffers deep physical and mental trauma, including long-term memory loss, stuttering and vulnerability to bright lights, and as a result, he is not sure when he will return to full-time acting.
He now gives tai chi classes to elderly people suffering from chronic diseases with an organisation called Active in The Community and he has written a book called “Life, Death, Tai Chi and Me”, after encouragement from his friend and fellow actor Brian Blessed.
“There is no doubt that Faye and the NHS saved my life, but tai chi has helped me fight back,” Jason said.
Jason’s ordeal began when feeling unwell for several days after going on a steep bike ride near his home, but thought it was a case of “altitude sickness”.
Then after returning home from dropping his daughter Phoebe, 15, off at Tring Park School for The Performing Arts on June 29, he suddenly collapsed in the hallway.
His wife Faye, who had already lived through a similar ordeal with an ex-boyfriend in 2012 who sadly died, rushed to see what was wrong before calling an ambulance and giving Jason CPR.
“She thought she was going to lose a partner for the second time in her life,” Jason said.
Jason was then rushed to The John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and induced into a coma before, on June 29 2021, undergoing surgery to coil the aneurysm, a procedure which involves inserting coils through arteries in the groin to prevent internal bleeding.
It is here on the operating table he claims to have had an extraordinary near-death experience and believes tai chi helped him fight for his life.
Thinking his time had come, Jason started working through a basic tai chi routine in his head before suddenly waking up the hospital’s care unit.
“I started doing this exercise from tai chi and could feel this extraordinary power,” he said.
“Then I suddenly woke up and the surgeon who I called Fortinbras (from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet) because he was a straight talker said ‘We thought that we’d nearly lost you’.”
While Jason had pulled through, he came face to face with death a second time just a few weeks later, on July 10, while recovering in intensive care after he contracted meningitis and suffered a serious seizure.
“I experienced the exact same, identical near-death experience,” he said.
“I saw the same crow like figure and then when I came back, they were like ‘we nearly lost you’.
“It was pretty intense.”
Today, Jason cannot exactly remember when he started doing tai chi as he suffers from long-term memory loss, but believes it was while studying at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) as a teenager.
“The problem is, because of the nature of my brain injury, I have long-term memory issues,” he said.
“I’m pretty sure I was introduced to tai chi at drama school and then I have a murky memory of doing it again when my son Mikey (27) went to martial arts classes.”
Despite this, Jason firmly believes the ancient form of martial arts helped him through one of the toughest times in his life after his near-fatal experiences.
Jason spent a month in hospital recovering from his injuries during which time he continued mentally practicing tai chi as he was afraid that the “crow man” was going to come back.
“While I was in hospital, I sort of retreated into martial arts and I would do the whole of tai chi,” he said.
“I pictured myself on a grassy mound in front of a setting sun and went through all of the exercises from start to finish.”
It took a while before Jason, whose vision and hearing was still severely impaired at the time, was able to get back on his feet.
“The first time I did tai chi again was in hospital with my porter, Sri,” he said.
“I had the drip stand next to me and he was filming me doing the first six or seven exercises.”
Jason was unable to sleep for many months after leaving hospital and began keeping a journal which he decided to turn into a book called Life, Death, Tai Chi and Me.
He is now working on a second book titled The Art Of Letting Go.
Find out more about Jason’s book at: www.austinmacauley.com/book/life-death-tai-chi-and-me
Find out more about Active in The Community at: www.activeinthecommunity.org.uk