A North East pensioner's life was saved after he was airlifted to hospital from a football match in a "scene out of Casualty" after suffering a cardiac arrest.

While playing in a friendly match at Spennymoor Leisure Centre last month, Bill Cunningham, 75, suddenly fell ill before losing consciousness.

The former police officer, from Spennymoor, who plays football twice-a-week, said he started to feel poorly just before it was his turn to go in goal and went to rest on some pitchside seats.

Moments later, he woke up to the news he had suffered a cardiac arrest and been airlifted to James Cook University Hospital by the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS).

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Speaking on the event, Mr Cunningham said: "The lads always get together twice a week, and we play football at the leisure centre – it’s just a bit of fun.

"That morning, I got there and when it was my turn to go in goal, I started to feel poorly.

“I can’t really describe how I felt but it wasn’t normal so I walked over to the seats by the pitch to sit down and that’s the last thing I remember.

“I’ve since been told that I was having a cardiac arrest.”

Heroic staff from the leisure centre sprang to help Mr Cunningham within one minute, performing CPR and coming out with a defibrillator.

Mr Cunningham was flown to James Cook University Hospital’s coronary care department, where he received four stents on the right side of his heart.

Meanwhile, Mr Cunningham's wife, Ruth, still remembers the call she received on the day of the incident which left her shocked.

Mrs Cunningham, who was set to join her husband for lunch after his match, said: "I was in the house just drying my hair and listening to the radio when the call came through.

"When they said he had had an accident I thought they meant maybe a broken ankle.

“When they said a cardiac arrest, I thought, how? He was fine this morning.”

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Adding to this, she said upon arriving at the leisure centre and being greeted with a helicopter and two ambulances, that it was like a scene out of Casualty.

After arriving at the scene, the GNAAS performed life-saving interventions on Mr Cunningham, for which Mrs Cunningham is grateful.

She said: "The GNAAS team were so lovely. They asked if I would like to fly with Bill but my friend Marion who was with me said she would drive me to the hospital.”

Leisure centre staff Shaun McGuiness, Matthew Douthwaite, Adam Fryer, Ryan Binks, Paul Kennedy and Leon Quinn were all credited with helping save his life.

In the aftermath, Mr Cunningham thanked the GNAAS for saving his life and said he would continue playing football to keep fit and avoid future health problems.

He said: “GNAAS is such a valuable service and without them, the outcome may have been very different.

“I’ve always taken life as it comes but I guess this has woken me up to how easily it can be taken away. Next year, Ruth and I are going to do all the things we’ve said we were going to do.”

“The consultant said to me that being so physically fit at my age saved my life and has encouraged me to go back to playing football within a few weeks.”

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