“Life doesn’t give you anything that you’re not prepared to deal with,” says Amanda Cole Richardson. “If you think it’s too wild or too tricky, just go step by step.”
Amanda’s nerve was tested on a July morning in 2015 when she encountered a man having a heart attack near her home in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. By logically tackling one issue at a time as she helped him, doctors say she saved John’s life.
That morning, heavily pregnant Amanda, who then worked in marketing, left her and her partner Brett’s home in the beachside suburb of Coogee to take their dog and a neighbour’s dog for an early walk. Within minutes, she encountered something unusual.
“I saw a car mount the kerb,” she says, “and I thought immediately, ‘What’s he doing? That’s a stupid place to park,’ because the car was now stationary. [Then] I saw a bit of foam around his mouth and so I kind of kicked into gear. There was a girl coming down the street, so I yelled out to her, ‘Can you call an ambulance? Something’s wrong.’”
The man in the car was father-of-three John Ross, a health reporter for The Australian. He had been driving home from an early-morning ocean swim when a blocked artery triggered a massive heart attack.
“I opened the door with the two dog leads in my hand,” Amanda says. “I noticed he had been for a swim because he had a towel around his waist, and I clocked that there were a couple of kids’ seats. He had a wedding band on so I knew that he was a devoted husband as well. Being seven months pregnant at the time, I was so emotional. I thought, ‘This is someone’s dad. Oh my God.’”
Flight attendant Beti Koltovski-Colton, the passer-by that Amanda had called out to, quickly phoned 000 and relayed the operator’s instructions. “They said to get him out of the car,” Amanda says. But she couldn’t get John’s foot off the pedal. “As I was looking for the handbrake, the car rolled backwards and took me and the dogs and my big belly backwards down this little mount,” she says. “I did worry that a door frame hitting my unborn child in utero was not good.”
Amanda finally got to the handbrake. With the car secured, she and Beti tried to free John, but weren’t strong enough to lift him out of the car. “I ran back to my house, which was only a minute away, to get Brett. He was just sitting there having cereal.”
Amanda rushed back to the scene with Brett in tow. Brett attracted the attention of another passer-by, retired paramedic Anthony Evans, and the two men were able to remove John from the car. Meanwhile, a fifth person, nurse Aideen Murphy, had come upon the scene on her way to work. “Anthony and Aideen just cracked on and started performing CPR on the side of the road,” Amanda says.
Moments later, an ambulance crew arrived with a defibrillator. “They started to defib him, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen anything so intense in all my life.’ Then they scooped him up and put him on a gurney into the back of the ambulance.” The paramedics drove off, leaving Amanda and the others to digest what they’d just experienced.
“Later that day, I went to work,” she recalls. “I just cried the whole day. I was a mess. I just wanted to know what happened. It was so unresolved.” That evening, she called the local police station, but officers were unable to provide her with information on John’s condition for privacy reasons.
“The next day, I got a call from a woman. It was Belle, John’s partner. She said, ‘He’s alive. He’s had triple bypass surgery, and he wants to meet you.’”
When she heard the news, Amanda burst into tears. “I just couldn’t believe the joy I felt for this virtual stranger,” she says.
There were more tears a couple of days later when Amanda and John met at the hospital where John was recuperating. “We just held each other [and] bawled our eyes out. He just kept thanking me for being there and for not dismissing him as a drunk driver. It was beautiful.”
In the weeks and months that followed, Amanda formed strong friendships with John and his family: his mother and brother both phoned her to say thank you, and Belle came around for tea.
Then Amanda gave birth to her first child, a daughter. “Cosette was born about two months after this all happened,” Amanda says. “The whole [Ross] family came over to congratulate me on the birth and to drop off some beautiful, much-needed baby paraphernalia.” One of the Ross children, Sara, took Amanda aside. “She said, ‘Thanks for saving Daddy’. It just struck such a chord with me, because she really understood.”
Today, the Cole Richardson family live on the NSW Shoalhaven Coast. They have taken over Cambewerra Estate, a winery established by Amanda’s parents, and are busy raising their two children. “I definitely want to teach my children to be good humans, in all that that encompasses, but also to be cool under pressure,” Amanda says. “I grew up on this property and my mum and dad always said, ‘Go. Have the adventure.’”
Since that eventful day, Amanda has been nominated for a Heroism Medal in the Pride of Australia Awards and both she and Brett have won awards from St John Ambulance. But she doesn’t think how she and the others reacted was extraordinary. “I think you just don’t have a second thought to try to help when you can. No-one around us was weighing up options – we all just did what we had to do.”