A dad-of-three who survived two cardiac arrests including one that left him in a coma for six days is rebuilding his life with the help of the ancient martial art, Tai Chi.
Music teacher Paul Williams, 37, from Bagillt, in Flintshire, attends free classes run by social enterprise RCS (Rhyl City Strategy) in Rhyl, after learning he has a rare heart condition could strike again at any moment.
Paul says Tai Chi, which combines deep breathing and relaxation with flowing movements, is helping him overcome severe anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brought on by the trauma of living with his condition.
He found out about the RCS classes after meeting Tai Chi instructor Sue Edwards through his NHS rehabilitation sessions.
Paul said: “It’s been amazing. As well as the physical side of things the Tai Chi is slowing down the mental side of things. It’s helping me to take the focus away from my fears.
“My mind ran away with me. PTSD changes everything. It was pretty harrowing.
“Focusing on the specific movements and postures is really anchoring. You come out and it’s like you’ve had a good sleep.
“After the first session I felt like a new person, and my mind is clearing. Physically I had less pain and I felt looser and more flexible.”
According to Paul, he has even started to regain memories lost due to his cardiac arrest attack and coma, as a result of practising Tai Chi through RCS.
Paul had no idea that he had a heart problem until he suddenly collapsed as he finished a day of teaching at Abbey Gate College in Chester, at age 35 in November 2015.
His life was saved thanks to quick thinking colleagues who used the school’s defibrillator to re-start his heart, and called for an ambulance.
Doctors kept him in an induced coma for six days, and hospital tests revealed he had been born with Brugada Syndrome, a rare condition which can disrupt of the heart’s normal rhythm and cause Sudden Adult Death (SAD) without warning.
Paul now has had an Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD) fitted inside his chest, which has been carefully calibrated to shock him if a cardiac arrest should strike again.
But the stress and trauma of his condition left him fearful of going out alone, or being left alone with his children Evie, 12, Faye 10, and Iris, aged one.
He has been unable to work since the attack and his wife Gemma, 36, has also had to give up her career to become his full-time carer.
The couple celebrated the birth of their third child Iris last summer, just ten weeks before Paul suffered a suffered a second cardiac arrest in September 2017.
Though traumatic, the incident spurred Paul on and now he is determined to improve his health so he can be strong for his young family, and someday get back to work.
He still suffers from nightmares and flashbacks to the coma, but says the Tai Chi is helping him to cope with the anxiety that the condition could strike again at any time.
“I shouldn’t be here,” said Paul. “It’s very, very hard to put into words how I feel, it was such a severe thing to happen.
“I have very much been living in fear that it can happen again. It’s a scary thing to keep thinking that, it’s like a black cloud.
“I’ve even started to get back some memories from before the coma, just little things that I’d forgotten about have started to come back.”
RCS (Rhyl City Strategy) is a social enterprise dedicated to helping people across North Wales enter, sustain or progress in employment through improving their health, employability and wellbeing. RCS operates across Conwy, Denbighshire, Anglesey and Gwynedd
RCS has been delivering the free Tai Chi classes at their headquarters in West Rhyl to encourage and inspire people to try new forms of exercise as a way of improving wellbeing. A total of 56 people have tried out Tai Chi, yoga or pilates in the past year.
Also in the class with Paul are 89-year-old Gwen Morgan who will celebrate her 90th birthday in August, and Valerie Chilton, 70, both of Kinmel Bay.
“I feel very good afterwards, it’s very relaxing, said Gwen. “I feel a lot calmer, when you’re stressed out about things it’s the breathing that helps with the Tai Chi. I practice at home too. I’m definitely feeling the difference.”
Operational Director at RCS Alison Thomas, said: “Paul has had an incredible journey. It’s inspiring to hear about the change in him since he’s starting the Tai Chi classes.
“We want to encourage as many people as possible across North Wales to build healthy habits into their daily lives, regardless of their age or employment status.”
“Paul is a testament to just what a difference Tai Chi can make, and we hope hearing his story will encourage more people to come along and have a go.”
The Tai Chi classes at RCS are run by former nurse Sue Edwards, who became a wellbeing trainer after leaving her role in the NHS, and is on a mission to promote more proactive approaches to health.
Sue said: “We’re practising a form of Tai Chi called Shibashi at RCS which is very low impact and suitable for beginners.
“It can help to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, keeps your joints supple, it can help with range of motion and it’s good for breathing problems. It improves balance, circulation, and stamina, and it can help you to meet new people too, so it’s a really holistic approach to wellbeing.”
“It’s wonderful seeing the benefits Paul is experiencing, and I would urge other people to try it, whatever your background.”
For more details about RCS call 01745 336442 or visit rcs-wales.co.uk