An actor has told how he had an “extraordinary near-death experience” after a sudden brain hemorrhage and a near-fatal seizure.
Jason Riddington, who appeared in Eastenders, Doctors and Luther, was hospitalized in June 2021 after his wife, Team GB show jumper and personal trainer Faye Riddington-Smith, 47, found him slumped 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 “conscious” and began practicing a basic tai chi routine in his mind. He credits this for saving his life.
Jason “knew he was going to die,” but says Chinese martial arts helped him focus on his then-unborn granddaughter, Leila.
“I saw this man in what I can only describe as the costumed outfit of a crow, with long feathers on his torso and a black beak,” Jason recalled.
“My daughter Emily was heavily pregnant at the time and we knew she was a little girl.
“I became aware of Emily and remember saying out loud, ‘No, I have to meet her [Leila]”Because I knew that was it, I died.”
Jason’s ordeal began when he felt unwell for several days after a steep bike ride near his home. He then thought it was an attack of ‘altitude sickness’.
However, while returning home on June 29 after dropping off his daughter Phoebe, 15, at school, he suddenly collapsed in the hallway.
Jason was taken to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and put into an induced coma. He underwent surgery to flush out the aneurysm. In this procedure, surgeons insert IUDs through arteries in the groin to prevent internal bleeding.
On this operating table, Jason claims to have had a near death experience and believes that tai chi helped him fight for his life.
“I started doing tai chi during this exercise and felt this extraordinary power,” he said.
“Then suddenly I awoke, and the surgeon, whom I called Fortinbras (from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet) because he was an honest speaker, said, ‘We thought we were about to lose you.’
While Jason survived, he faced death again a few weeks later on July 10. While recovering in intensive care, he contracted meningitis and had a severe seizure.
“I had the exact same, identical near-death experience,” he said.
“I saw the same crow-like shape and when I came back they said, ‘We almost lost you.’ It was quite intense.’
Jason spent a month in the hospital recovering from his injuries. During this time, he continued to practice Tai Chi in the mind.
“While I was in the hospital I kind of retreated into martial arts and did all the tai chi,” he said.
“I imagined myself on a grassy knoll in front of a setting sun and went through all the exercises from start to finish.”
It took Jason a while to get back on his feet.
“The first time I did tai chi again was in the hospital with my porter, Sri,” he said. “I had the IV pole next to me and he was filming me for the first six or seven exercises.”
After being released from the hospital, Jason struggled to sleep after his ordeal. And so he started keeping a journal, which he turned into a book called Life, Death, Tai Chi and Me after being encouraged to do so by fellow actor and friend Brian Blessed.
Two years later, Jason continues to suffer from deep physical and mental trauma, including long-term memory loss, stuttering, and vulnerability to bright light. Due to the long-term consequences, he is not sure when he will return to full-time acting.
Today, he teaches Tai Chi to elderly people suffering from chronic illnesses with an organization called Active in The Community.
“There’s no doubt that Faye and the NHS saved my life, but tai chi helped me fight back,” said Jason.
He is currently working on a second book entitled The Art of Letting Go.
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