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UK Coaching Team
Safety and Welfare Inspiring Stories

The Team of ‘Angels’ Who Gave Fabrice Muamba a Second Shot at Life

Sudden cardiac arrest survivor Fabrice Muamba tells coaches, “You can make a difference. You can save a life”, as he backs UK Coaching’s ‘Be Quick. Be Smart. Restart a Heart’ campaign.

‘Lucky’ may seem an odd choice of word to describe sudden cardiac arrest survivor Fabrice Muamba. But it is the most apt. 

And it is the first word Fabrice himself uses every time he is asked to recount the remarkable story of his resuscitation and “miraculous” recovery from a cardiac arrest.

Fabrice cannot remember much of that fateful day on 17 March 2012, but a large section of the country will never forget it.

Because the first part of Fabrice’s harrowing ordeal was played out in full view of 30,000 football fans and a watching TV audience of millions. 

Those inside the stadium gazed in stunned silence when Fabrice dropped suddenly to the floor near the halfway line with no one around him, 43 minutes into Bolton’s FA Cup quarter-final against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.

Fabrice lay clinically dead for 78 minutes – which was the time it took for the medical team comprising physios and doctors from both clubs, paramedics, a consultant cardiologist from the stands, a St John Ambulance unit and an emergency crew from the London Ambulance Service, to restart his heart.

As each minute ticked by, a shaken nation watched as Fabrice received chest compression CPR, punctuated by defibrillator shocks (two on the pitch, one in the tunnel and 12 in the ambulance).

Surviving to thriving

For Fabrice to experience no long-term brain damage after spending longer than an hour without oxygen being pumped to his brain is, according to consultant cardiologist at The London Chest Hospital Dr Andrew Deaner, “nothing but a miracle”.

Dr Deaner – a Spurs fan who decided only at the very last minute that he would cycle to the stadium and attend the cup tie – was able to talk a steward into allowing him onto the pitch to help the medical team who were working on Fabrice. Another stroke of luck.

If there was ever a right place and a right time to suffer a cardiac arrest in Britain in 2012, then this was it.

New FIFA rules were introduced following the death from cardiac arrest eight years earlier of former Premier League footballer Marc-Vivien Foé playing for Cameroon against Columbia. It became a mandatory requirement for football stadiums to have defibrillators and medical personnel pitch-side, trained in the use of the life-saving equipment and in CPR.

To this day, outside of the world of professional sport, much of the country is still playing catch-up.


“If I had had my accident in the house, it would have been a completely different story,” says Fabrice, who later learnt that every minute lost before applying CPR is estimated to reduce someone’s chances of surviving a cardiac arrest by 10%.

But it wasn’t luck alone that saved Fabrice’s life that night. It was the coordinated teamwork and quick decisions of those who rushed to his aid. And to those people, Fabrice says he will be eternally grateful.

I’m just very thankful that I had an amazing team helping me on the day and throughout my stay in hospital. I thank every single one of them every single day. They are my angels. 

“I smile every day and enjoy life even more now and I will carry these people with me in my heart wherever I go.

“For me, every day is a blessing. To be able to see my wife Shauna and my four children, to play with them and laugh with them, that is the biggest gift I could ever wish for.”

Facts and figures

It is a sombre fact that, of the 30,000 out of hospital cardiac arrests in the UK each year, 27,000 do not survive the event.

It is another unfortunate fact that our track record as a nation in CPR is poor at best.

Historically, the country has low rates of CPR training in schools, colleges, workplaces, outdoor clubs and indoor sports facilities, and this is undoubtedly a big reason for the unacceptable out of hospital survival rate in comparison to that of some other European countries – one in 10. 

According to the British Heart Foundation, nearly a third of UK adults are not likely to attempt CPR. Considering CPR can treble someone's chances of survival if immediate action is taken, the urgent need to reverse that cultural failure is obvious. 

As is the need for more life-saving equipment to be made available in public places – with Fabrice having been involved in a number of defibrillator campaigns aimed at increasing their prevalence in shops, businesses and gyms.

Surely if fire extinguishers are compulsory in all premises then defibrillators should be made mandatory for all public spaces,” says Fabrice. 


“And if you can afford one, then buy one for the home too, because cardiac arrests can happen anywhere. I have one in my house.”

Bolton and Tottenham players react as Fabrice receives medical assistance at White Hart Lane


Inaction to intervention 

Fabrice wants to drive home the message that we can all be emergency heroes, and that the 27,000 sudden cardiac arrest deaths that happen outside of hospitals each year are preventable

Coaches are not expected to be as skilled as doctors, but it’s about knowing the fundamentals: getting someone to phone 999, starting CPR and using a defibrillator before the ambulance arrives. That will significantly increase someone’s chances of surviving a cardiac arrest if one happens in your session, at an event or during a match.

“If you see someone in that predicament, don’t hold back and don’t panic – get involved straight away. Just do the best you can.”

Think cardiac arrest. Don’t just think fall, is Fabrice’s advice. And have a calculated plan to help you beat the clock. 

Only 20% of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) victims are in a ‘shockable’ condition when emergency services arrive, which is why immediate CPR is vital.

Coaches have a duty to care for the people at their sessions. As such, they should know how to respond in this type of emergency. No one should be left crossing their fingers in the hope that someone else is equipped with the proper knowledge and training.

Imagine for a moment if training could be provided to all three million active coaches in the UK – who impact the lives of nine million people every year – so that they have the knowledge and confidence to know how to respond quickly and appropriately in the event of a sudden cardiac arrest.

Discounting those coaches who have received training, that’s approximately three million more emergency heroes helping reduce the SCA death toll each year.

It is for this reason that Fabrice is lending his support to UK Coaching’s Lifesaving Digital Toolkit and free Sudden Cardiac Arrest eLearning course which, through a series of sport and leisure-specific, high-impact videos, aims to provide coaches and those who deliver sport and physical activity sessions and programmes with the knowledge to know what to do should they witness a cardiac arrest.


SCAs can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone

Fabrice admits that, prior to his SCA, he would not have known how to react if someone collapsed in front of him without warning. 

He would know exactly what to do now, having undertaken training with his wife and children. Like most people, however, before his accident he mistakenly believed that fit and healthy young people were somehow immune to cardiac arrests.

In fact, anyone is at risk – and that includes fine physical specimens like Premier League footballers and other professional and amateur sportsmen and women.

The fact that, more often than not, there are no red flags to look out for, is what makes the need for essential training to be made compulsory for all those operating in sport and leisure facilities, and to the wider community too.

Even with heart-health screening, the many inherited diseases and non-genetic heart abnormalities that can cause SCA often go undetected. 

As a professional footballer, Fabrice underwent regular physical tests and medical examinations. He had an extensive check-up – which included a scan and an ECG – just weeks before his SCA, which once again returned normal results.

“I trained five times a week. I was never ill; never got sick; I was a professional footballer. 

I woke up on the morning of the game, no issues whatsoever. I arrived at the stadium, looking forward to the match against Tottenham, and then the whistle. All of a sudden, wham! It happened. 

“I remember missing a chance to score a goal and then, literally out of nowhere, I fell down. There was no pain. I remember feeling dizzy and seeing double but that’s it. I can’t remember being taken from the pitch, the journey to the hospital in the ambulance, nothing. 

“The accident happened on a Saturday evening and I didn’t wake up until Monday morning. When I did wake up, I didn’t know what had happened to me.”

A triumph over adversity

That Fabrice found it difficult to come to terms with the abrupt end of his burgeoning career is self-evident. 

He had the world at his feet. The fourth most capped England Under-21 player in history, he was looking forward to the prospect of representing his country at senior level until fate intervened.

But he is alive. And no matter the hand he was dealt, that beats everything.

“It was a very hard pill to swallow for me as a 23-year-old professional, when things were going so well for me in my career. But I couldn’t put my life at risk and I don’t regret my decision to retire because, while it was difficult to accept I wouldn’t play again, at least I lived my dream and I’m still here to see my wife and children. 

I have learnt to accept the bigger picture. Life throws some people adversity and you have to be able to accept it and move forward.”

Moving forward for Fabrice meant starting a new career in coaching. He joined the Rochdale Academy coaching staff two years ago, which – alongside working as a referee assessor for the Premier League – has enabled him to continue his love affair with football and write a brand-new chapter in his life.

I have my coaching badges and, you know, coaching is probably the best thing for any former player to do after they stop playing football. I am in a happy place mentally and physically.”

A storybook ending to a remarkable tale. And Fabrice is doing his utmost to ensure there will be more happy endings to come for others like him.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Digital Toolkit

Learn to be quick, be smart and restart a heart with our life-saving digital learning toolkit that will enable you to act swiftly and effectively in the event of a sudden cardiac arrest.

Take a look

Related Resources

  • Sudden Cardiac Arrest: A Coach’s Story

  • Sudden Cardiac Arrest: The Story of One Ordinary Joe and his Extraordinary Legacy

  • A Cause Close to my Heart – Martin Johnson on the Importance of Sudden Cardiac Arrest Training


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