Angler who swallowed live dover sole thanks paramedics who saved him

Sole survivor Sam Quilliam (right) at Boscombe pier in Dorset where he was saved by paramedic Matt Harrison (left) after accidentally swallowing the 14cm fish.
Sole survivor Sam Quilliam (right) at Boscombe pier in Dorset where he was saved by paramedic Matt Harrison (left) after accidentally swallowing the 14cm fish. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

An angler who almost died after he accidentally got a whole live dover sole stuck in his throat as he tried to plant a kiss on it has been reunited with the ambulance crew that saved him.

Sam Quilliam, 28, had just caught the 14cm fish when it clearly took exception to his attempted kiss, wriggled free and jumped down his windpipe – causing a complete blockage.

Paramedics were called and when they arrived at the dimly lit Boscombe pier in Dorset they found Quilliam had collapsed and stopped breathing.

His friends Steve Perry and Matt Holmes were performing CPR, as directed by an emergency medical dispatcher on the line from the 999 control room.

Quilliam, from the New Forest, said the fish was too small to keep and was about to throw it back when he thought he would give it a kiss.

“I picked it up and went to give it a kiss before I threw it back. I squeezed it and like a bar of soap it jumped out of my hand and into my mouth. It got out of my hands and into my mouth and basically swam straight down my throat.”

He explained his kiss had been inspired by the Australian television fisherman Rex Hunt, who often plants a kiss on his catches.

“I ran round the pier like a headless chicken and then passed out. It was terrifying from what I remember.

“Steve and Matt and the paramedics did a great job to save my life. I could have easily died and I feel very lucky to be here. I feel much better now, it’s like beyond winning the lottery. Me and my family are really grateful.”

Turning to paramedic Matt Harrison, who helped save him, he added: “Thank you, you are a credit to the NHS.”

Quilliam said his ordeal would not put him off fishing. “I’m much better now. Once I am back at work and fit I will probably get back at it again,” he said.

Perry, 27, said: “It was just sheer panic, it was horrendous. We reacted on our instincts. Matt was pumping his chest and I was doing the breaths. He was dead, his heart had stopped. I was so relieved when he came round.

“People have joked about it since but it wasn’t a joke. He could have died, he could have had severe brain damage. We just thank God he is still here.”

He added: “Sam and I are kind of even now. He stopped me falling off the edge of a rock when we were fishing once. He thanked me for saving him. We’ve had a lot of man hugs.”

The bizarre incident happened when the group of friends went night fishing on Boscombe pier on 5 October.

Harrison said when he got the call about a casualty with a fish stuck in his throat he was expecting to find someone struggling with fish bones.

Initial assessment by the specialist paramedic was that the patient had a blocked airway and was in cardiac arrest.

He and a colleague, Martyn Box, an operations officer, worked on the man and got a pulse back.

“The boys were giving really good CPR on our arrival as instructed by the control room staff,” Box said.

“Initially, we didn’t know the true extent of the situation or what the patient was choking on, but as we questioned them further we were told he had a whole fish stuck in his windpipe.”

Despite the paramedics artificially ventilating him with a bag and mask, Quilliam’s chest remained silent, suggesting there was total airway occlusion and he was not receiving any oxygen.

Harrison said: “It was clear that we needed to get the fish out or this patient was not going to survive the short journey to Royal Bournemouth hospital. I used a laryngoscope to fully extend the mouth and throat and saw what appeared like an altered colour of tissue in his throat.

“Using a Magill forceps I was able to eventually dislodge the tip of the tail and very carefully, so as not to break the tail off I tried to remove it – although the fish’s barbs and gills were getting stuck on the way back up.

“I was acutely aware that I only had one attempt at getting this right as if I lost grip or a piece broke off and it slid further out of sight then there was nothing more that we could have done to retrieve the obstruction. Eventually after six attempts the fish came out in one piece and to our amazement it was a whole dover sole, measuring approximately 14cm in length.”

Harrison added: “I have never attended a more bizarre incident and don’t think I ever will – but we’re all so glad the patient has no lasting effects from his cardiac arrest, which could so easily have had such a tragic and devastating outcome. It was the most wonderful feeling when we got it out.

“But seeing it on the floor it seemed almost unbelievable. I have never seen anything like it in my career.”