A sudden cardiac arrest at 54 took Sophie Owen’s father, Chris, from her. Now she’s on a mission to prevent others from going through the same tragedy.
When Sophie Owen arrived home from work on 1 July 2019, she couldn’t wait to tell her dad, Chris, about her day. 17 years old at the time, she had recently started a work experience placement at Boots and was keen to talk to him about how her day had gone, and all the new things she’d learned on the job.
As she pulled into the driveway, she saw her dad laid out on the floor receiving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Ambulance staff arrived and took him to hospital, but he was pronounced dead on arrival. He was only 54.
In a flash Sophie’s life changed. Her father outwardly appeared to be fit and healthy, farming in Nottinghamshire, where Sophie grew up. He had a business, regularly attended agricultural shows, and was well known in the local farming community. He did not appear to be in poor health and there were few outward signs that would suggest he was at risk.
Of course, Chris was no stranger to the stresses and strains of farming: long hours, intense labour, uncertainty, and needing to provide for his family in the face of challenging market conditions – all of which can place significant pressure on a person.
He had earlier that year been to see a doctor, after repeated encouragement from the family. His own father had died in his 60s of a heart attack, and they wanted to make sure he wasn’t at risk of similar health issues. After a series of tests doctors confirmed he had dangerously high blood pressure, and he was quickly put on medication in an attempt to treat the issue.
Tragically, only a couple of months later, Chris was dead. The cause of death – hypertension. He had gone into cardiac arrest, outside the family home.
Sophie was left without a father, unsure what to do next, and how to process this tragedy that had uprooted her entire world. But like all people involved in farming, Sophie is a problem-solver. She researched the issue – learning the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest, and educating herself on some of the signs and symptoms to look out for.
While her father had received CPR from a neighbour, she also learned that access to a defibrillator could have increased his chance of survival. The rural nature of farming sadly meant that it took a long time for an ambulance to arrive – time that her father did not have.
Sophie, now 22 and recently graduated from the University of Leicester, still ponders why her father did not go to the doctor sooner.
“He was stubborn, and perhaps a bit scared,” she says. “We all say ‘it won’t happen to me’ when it comes to our health, and we are often too busy to find the time to properly look after ourselves. By the time my father did go to the doctor, he was already suffering from extremely high blood pressure. Maybe if he had gone to see a doctor sooner, he would still be here today. But that fear of the unknown can stop us from asking for help.”
While Sophie faced many unknowns in the aftermath, there was one thing she was clear on: she wanted to make sure that nobody else had to go through a similar loss. She recognised a need on farms, and in other businesses, for defibrillators to be fitted, and importantly for training to be provided so that staff understand how to use them.
In November 2022, alongside her studies, Sophie established Heart Health in Business, a dedicated LinkedIn group set up to access businesses, to spread awareness of CPR and heart disease, and to encourage the adoption of defibrillators on sites. Sophie has successfully campaigned to get a defibrillator installed on her university’s campus, and has her sights set on encouraging more employers to follow suit.
Sophie recognises this is important in all industries, but especially so in farming. Given the rural, often isolated nature of farming, and the small teams often working on farms, she worries that others might find themselves in a similar situation to her father.
“If you were on a farm and a family member or colleague went into cardiac arrest, would you know what to do?” Sophie questions. “A lot of people would say ‘no’. We have plasters on farms and in offices for when someone cuts their finger; but we don’t often have access to vital equipment such as defibrillators that could mean the difference between life and death.”
Sophie would like to see a positive change in farming that encourages people to take better care of themselves. Farmers often put their families, livestock and even machinery ahead of themselves. But just like a well-oiled machine, farmers also need regular service checks or ‘health MOTs’ to make sure everything is still in good working order.
She recognises the hard work of charities like The Farming Community Network (FCN) in normalising these sorts of conversations, advocating for a healthy work-life balance, and for taking time to de-stress and unwind where possible without feeling guilty. She cites FCN’s work supporting farmers’ health and wellbeing as being close to her own heart.
“Taking our health seriously is everyone’s responsibility,” she says. “Learning how to help someone who has experienced a cardiac arrest means that if you ever find yourself in that situation, you know what to do, how to help, and importantly how to try and save that person’s life.”
Sophie is now on a mission to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage more businesses to provide training and equipment – hoping that nobody else will have to experience the loss of a loved one in the way that she did.
“Farming is at the heart of so many things in this world,” she says. “As a community we need to come together to care for and look after one another. We all have a part to play.”
Some useful resources are available below:
- Follow the Heart Health in Business LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12733226/
- Learn more about the British Heart Foundation’s Revivr Training: https://www.bhf.org.uk/how-you-can-help/how-to-save-a-life/how-to-do-cpr/learn-cpr-in-15-minutes#organisation
- Watch a video about the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest (British Heart Foundation):