An actor has shared how he had an ‘extraordinary near-death experience’ after suffering a sudden brain haemorrhage and near-fatal seizure.
Jason Riddington, who has appeared in Eastenders, Doctors and Luther, was rushed to hospital in June 2021 after his wife, Team GB show jumper and personal trainer Faye Riddington-Smith, 47, found him collapsed on the floor.
Faye saved his life by performing CPR while waiting for an ambulance.
Jason, 54, had suffered a brain aneurysm and immediately underwent brain surgery.
During the procedure, Jason said he became ‘aware’, and started practicing a basic tai chi routine in his head. He credits this with saving his life.
Jason ‘knew he was dying’, but says the Chinese martial art helped him to focus on his then-unborn granddaughter, Leila.
‘I saw this man wearing what I can only describe as the fancy dress outfit of a crow, with long feathers along his torso and a black beak,’ Jason recalled.
‘My daughter Emily was heavily pregnant at the time and we knew it was a little girl.
‘I became aware of Emily and remember saying out loud “No I need to meet her [Leila]” because I knew that this was it, I was dying.’
Jason’s ordeal first began when he felt unwell for several days after going on a steep bike ride near his home. At the time, he thought it was a bout of ‘altitude sickness.’
However, after returning home from dropping his daughter Phoebe, 15, off at school on June 29, he suddenly collapsed in the hallway.
Jason was brought to The John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and placed in an induced coma. He underwent surgery to coil the aneurysm. This procedure sees surgeons insert coils through arteries in the groin to prevent internal bleeding.
It is was on that operating table that Jason claims to have had a near-death experience, and believes tai chi helped him fight for his life.
‘I started doing this exercise from tai chi and could feel this extraordinary power,’ he said.
‘Then I suddenly woke up and the surgeon, who I called Fortinbras (from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet) because he was a straight talker, said: “We thought that we’d nearly lost you.”
While Jason survived, he once again came face to face with death just a few weeks later, on July 10. While recovering in intensive care, he contracted meningitis and suffered a serious seizure.
‘I experienced the exact same, identical near-death experience,’ he said.
‘I saw the same crow like figure and then when I came back, they were like “we nearly lost you.” It was pretty intense.’
Jason spent a month in hospital recovering from his injuries. Throughout this time, he continued mentally practicing tai chi.
‘While I was in hospital, I sort of retreated into martial arts and I would do the whole of tai chi,’ he said.
‘I pictured myself on a grassy mound in front of a setting sun and went through all of the exercises from start to finish.’
It took some time before Jason was able to get back on his feet.
‘The first time I did tai chi again was in hospital with my porter, Sri,’ he said. ‘I had the drip stand next to me and he was filming me doing the first six or seven exercises.’
After being discharged from hospital, Jason struggled to sleep after his ordeal. And so, he began keeping a journal which he decided to turn into a book called Life, Death, Tai Chi and Me after encouragement from fellow actor and friend, Brian Blessed.
Two years later, Jason still suffers deep physical and mental trauma, including long-term memory loss, stuttering and vulnerability to bright lights. Because of the long-term effects, he is not sure when he will return to full-time acting.
He now gives tai chi classes to elderly people suffering from chronic diseases with an organisation called Active in The Community.
‘There is no doubt that Faye and the NHS saved my life, but tai chi has helped me fight back,’ Jason said.
He is now working on a second book titled ‘The Art of Letting Go.’
Find out more about Active in The Community at: www.activeinthecommunity.org.uk
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