Ipswich: Footballer thanks referee who saved his life after he swallowed his tongue

A SUNDAY league footballer today thanked a referee for saving his life after he swallowed his tongue during a match.

The dramatic rescue took place at Gainsborough Sports Centre ten minutes into the second half of the clash between Gladstone Arms and Lattice Barn.

Michael Ripper was struck in the face by the ball, leaving the 25-year-old unconscious and not breathing.

Luckily for the father-of-one, Sunday’s match referee Carl Thomson is a paramedic, and he immediately leapt into action.

Mr Ripper, of Robeck Road, Ipswich, thanked the referee for saving his life – and said his story highlighted the importance of having a trained first-aider at matches.

“He saved my life,” said Mr Ripper.

“If it wasn’t for him I might not be here now. Doctors said that a minute longer without air would have left me with brain damage or dead.

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“Apparently the thump of the ball hitting me and me hitting the ground could be heard all around the pitch.

“The referee ran straight over to me and found that I had swallowed my tongue and my airways had been blocked.

“I must have been unconscious for about two or three minutes and then I started fitting.

“The referee was amazing, he helped to clear my airways while we waited for the ambulance service.”

Within minutes of the Gladstone Arms striker being knocked unconscious, an ambulance arrived having been called to treat a player from another match at Gainsborough who had dislocated his knee. Paramedics focused their attentions on Mr Ripper and called another crew out for the injured footballer.

Suffering from severe concussion and unable to feel anything on the left-hand side of his body, Mr Ripper was taken to Ipswich Hospital where he had X-rays and CT scans. He was released later that day.

Mr Ripper’s partner, expectant mum Natalie McMahon, and their four-year-old son Liam, watched in horror as the drama unfolded.

He said: “All I can remember is waking up and seeing all these people around me but not knowing what was happening.

“Without the referee knowing first aid then I might not be here today. All of this has really made me think about things – life and football.

“It is so important that every football match has a first aider present – things like what happened to me could happen to anyone else and they might not be so lucky. Referees deserve a lot of respect for what they do.

“I have to thank the ambulance service and the opposition team too – they were all amazing.”

Mr Ripper’s first aider plea comes days after a campaign was launched to train more people in basic first aid. The initiative follows a survey by St John Ambulance which showed people in East Anglia lacked sufficient life-saving skills.

Referee Carl Thomson believes every football team should have at least one player or club member trained in first aid.

The paramedic said without his intervention on Sunday morning, it is likely Mr Ripper would have died.

Recalling the dramatic events, Mr Thomson, of Foxhall Road, told The Star: “I just kicked into work mode.

“People were trying to get him in the recovery position but I knew I had to clear his airway.

“I got him on his back and performed a manoeuvre called a jaw thrust to get his tongue out of his airway.”

“In the eight to ten minutes it took the ambulance to get there, if his airway had stayed blocked he probably wouldn’t be with us today.

“Having at least one member of the team trained in first aid is really important, as this shows. It could have been a very different outcome.”

Spectator Carrie Willis was on the sidelines and witnessed the incident.

Writing to The Star to praise the ambulance service, Ms Willis, of Clapgate Lane, said she was encouraged to do so after reading an article on September 11 criticising the service when a football player waited more than an hour after breaking his leg.

She said: “The lad fell to the floor unconscious.

“Many things happened very quickly and the lad was in danger of becoming seriously ill. I called the ambulance service and a team member spoke to the ambulance team.

“The referee, an off duty paramedic, did a fantastic job of keeping the lad conscious and calm. The ambulance arrived within ten minutes of my call.

“I would like to send out a heart-felt thank you to that referee and the ambulance service for doing a sterling job.

“I know I couldn’t do their job but I’m very thankful that they are there whenever we need them.”

A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: “We get many letters of praise, nearly three times as many compliments than complaints are sent to the ambulance service every week so it is encouraging to see this balance reflected in the media.”

Has someone come to your rescue? Write to Your Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.