Seven-year-old girl helps save mother's life after severe asthma attack

Isla helped her mother Katherine Holifield with a 999 call after she struggled to breathe.

A seven-year-old girl has been credited with saving her mother’s life when she suffered a severe asthma attack.

Katherine Holifield, 37, was driving home on August 12 after a day kayaking with friends when she began to struggle for breath.

She pulled over into a layby on the A449 in Monmouthshire and called 999 for help, but due to heavy wheezing was unable to speak and give the call handler her location.

Isla Holifield with her mother Katherine and their dog Roly after being presented with her certificate of commendation (Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust/PA)
Isla Holifield with her mother Katherine and their dog Roly after being presented with her certificate of commendation (Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust/PA)

As Ms Holifield, who suffers from brittle asthma, found her breathing worsening, her daughter Isla took over the call.

The seven-year-old calmly told the call handler to look out for a red car with a kayak on the roof.

The Welsh Ambulance Service call handler used the global addressing technology what3words to pinpoint Ms Holifield’s exact location and organise help.

Ms Holifield, of Cardiff, said: “We’d spent the day kayaking in Monmouth with friends. I felt a bit tight-chested when we got off the water but just put it down to the fact we’d been doing quite a bit of strenuous activity.

“We’d started to make the journey home but I wasn’t getting any better, I was getting worse.

“Recognising it was an asthma attack, I pulled into a layby and got my nebuliser out to try and help.

“I’ve had brittle asthma since I was a month old and have managed it my entire life with inhalers and nebulisers, but this one was especially bad.

“In the end I couldn’t speak at all and Isla said, ‘Mummy, is this when I need to call 999?’”

Call handler Madison Vickery, who is based at the trust’s clinical contact centre in Carmarthenshire, said: “I could tell straight away that Katherine was really struggling to breathe.

“She was physically unable to describe their location, so I sent her a text message containing a link to the what3words website so we could try and find them.

“The three words – configure, audio, plodding – put them on the A449 just outside Llandenny in Monmouthshire, so we were then able to organise help.”

As Ms Holifield’s condition deteriorated, quick-thinking Isla took over the call.

Ms Holifield, a service co-ordinator at Cardiff-based Haven Home Care, added: “Isla was so calm and concise when she was giving information to the call handler.

“She was upset but she was just on a mission with it. She did all of this with our Jack Russell, Roly, in the car too.

“There are periods when my asthma is very good and periods where it goes completely off the rails.

“On average, I have an asthma attack every two to three months, and usually have to call for an ambulance around twice a year when they’re that severe.

“I had Covid-19 last April which just seems to have exacerbated the problem.”

Paramedics Harriett Thomas and Will Jones arrived to help Ms Holifield and took her to the Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran.

Mr Jones said: “It was clear when we got there that Katherine was in massive respiratory distress.

“For us, it was about trying to stabilise her breathing enough to get her in the back of the ambulance – all while traffic was hurtling past us in the next lane.

“Isla was very sweet and was holding her mum’s hand throughout.”

This week, Ms Holifield, Isla and Roly met call handler Ms Vickery in person to say thank you and were also reunited with the two paramedics.

Isla was presented with a certificate of commendation by trust chief executive Jason Killens.

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