Former professional rugby union player, Nick Williams, has opened up about his ‘road to recovery’ after suffering a cardiac arrest which left him fighting for his life.

On 30 September 2022, retired Cardiff Rugby player, Nick Williams, was due to be commentating on a match at Cardiff Arms Park. Instead, he found himself recovering in a hospital bed after suffering a cardiac arrest in his friend’s back garden.  

The former number 8, who retired from professional rugby in 2020, was on his way to his friend’s house to have his daughter’s passport witnessed when he suddenly collapsed.

Recounting that fateful day, Nick said: “My friend Jase didn’t know I was coming around and it was purely by chance that he was working from home that day. I went around the back way to his garden, but he had nipped out.

“When he got back, he saw me lying on his patio floor. I had gone into cardiac arrest. Thankfully adrenaline kicked in and he started performing CPR before alerting the emergency services.”

The Welsh Ambulance Service arrived on scene, followed by the Wales Air Ambulance.

The crew onboard Wales Air Ambulance were Critical Care Practitioners Elliott Rees, Caroline Arter and Rhyan Curtin.

Elliott said: “When we arrived, Nick had just received his fourth defibrillator shock. We took a handover from the ambulance crew who had done a fantastic job and made an assessment of Nick’s condition.

“Our service delivers advanced critical care interventions which would usually only be available within a hospital setting.

“We were able to deliver hospital-standard treatments in Jason’s back garden. We intubated Nick and attached him to one of our ventilators - which enabled us to take over his breathing, protecting him brain from damage. We also gave Nick some medicines to keep him sedated and ran in-depth tests such as an ultrasound scan of his heart and a blood gas test, which can give an insight into why someone has had a cardiac arrest.

“Once Nick was stable and established on the ventilator, we transferred him to the University Hospital of Wales.”

Nick’s professional career has seen him play for some of the world’s greatest club sides, including Cardiff, Ulster, Munster and Super Rugby side the Auckland Blues. He has also won several international caps for the Junior All Blacks. Ironically, two months before the incident, he played in a testimonial game for Wales Air Ambulance Ambassador James Hook, who was raising money for the lifesaving charity.

The New Zealander recalls very little of the incident that so nearly cost him his life at just 38 years old and said his recovery over the last 16 months had been an emotional rollercoaster.

He said: “When I woke up, I asked my brother if we had won or lost the game, having thought I had been concussed playing rugby. Being told I had a cardiac arrest was a lot to take in and I have been on a journey ever since.

 “A lot of people think rugby players are these big tough blokes, and I've played in front of thousands of people all over the world, but this is by far the biggest challenge I've had.

“I am so fortunate to have my wonderful wife Gemma, who has been my cornerstone every step of the way and my three beautiful girls who keep me going.”

The Wales Air Ambulance Charity relies on public donations to raise £11.2million every year to keep the helicopters in the air and rapid response vehicles on the road.

As part of Nick’s recovery, he met up with the medical crew that helped save his life, along with Gemma and his three daughters who are now aged twelve, ten and six years old.

They provided Nick and his family with a detailed medical timeline of what procedures were performed at the scene and filled in the “gaps” that were missing from his memory.

Nick said: “I didn’t realise how much I would benefit from meeting the crew that helped save my life. Initially, I wanted my girls to meet the people that saved ‘Daddy’s life’ and show them what real superheroes look like, as well as thanking them for everything they did for me. I gained so much from it and so did my family.

“I was choked to see the helicopter that came out to me and meet everyone, I will forever be indebted to them.”

Wales Air Ambulance is consultant-led, taking hospital-standard treatments to the patient and, if required, transferring them directly to the most appropriate hospital for their illness or injury. For the patient, this can mean hours saved when compared to standard care and is proven to greatly improve survival and early recovery.

This advanced critical care includes the ability to administer anaesthesia, deliver blood transfusions and conduct minor operations, all at the scene of an incident.

The Service is often described as a ‘flying emergency department’, however, it can also deliver the same standard of care by road via its fleet of rapid response vehicles.

This 24/7 service is delivered via a unique Third Sector and Public Sector partnership. The Wales Air Ambulance Charity relies on public donations to raise the £11.2 million required every year to keep the helicopters in the air and rapid response vehicles on the road. The Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS) supplies highly skilled NHS consultants and critical care practitioners who work on board the Charity’s vehicles.


As a pan-Wales service, its dedicated crews, regardless of where they are based, will travel the length and breadth of the country to deliver emergency lifesaving care.


Reflecting on the service that saved his life, Nick said: “Every day I count my blessings and thank the heroes from the Wales Air Ambulance for being there for me when I needed them the most. You don’t realise how precious life is or how much you take it for granted until you come so close to losing everything.

“There are not enough plaudits in the world to say how grateful I am.”

Nick is back ‘doing what he does best’ as Head of Rugby in an independent school in Dorset.

He said: “I never stop thinking about my heroes at the Wales Air Ambulance. Every time we see a helicopter, my little girl says, ‘look Daddy, it’s our friends,’ and I count my blessings every day and think of those wonderful people and the amazing Wales Air Ambulance for saving my life.”