Learning how to save a life

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When Rick Gorman first received CPR training, he imagined he might one day use what he’d learned while rendering aid to a stranger suffering sudden cardiac arrest. It never occurred to him that he would use the technique to save his wife’s life. But that’s exactly what happened.

It was only a few weeks after the Petaluma Exchange Bank branch manager had completed a refresher CPR course a year ago that he and his family were ensconced in their west side home’s cozy living room celebrating his wife Erica’s birthday with three of their children and a couple grandkids. Suddenly, to everyone’s horror, Erica stopped breathing.

As their daughter called 911, Rick wasted no time applying what he’d learned. He pulled his wife off the couch and onto the floor and immediately began chest compressions, which kept the blood flowing to Erica’s brain and internal organs for the six minutes it took for the Petaluma Fire Department paramedics to arrive. Rick was instructed to continue compressions for another couple minutes before paramedics set up their external defibrillator equipment and applied the first shock designed to restart Erica’s heart.

It didn’t work, so after more compressions a second shock was applied. Still nothing.

It wasn’t until the third shock from the defibrillator that Erica’s heart finally began beating again, and she was quickly loaded into an ambulance headed for the trauma center at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

As the ambulance sped along, Rick received few words of encouragement from the emergency responders aboard. The paramedics knew that Erica’s chance of survival was very low and so probably did not want to convey any sense of false hope. Less than 10 percent of people survive when their heart suddenly stops beating outside a hospital, according to the National Institutes of Health.

But Erica had one hugely important thing going for her: she’d received immediate CPR. And it worked. Before long, Erica was stabilized at the hospital and a nurse walked up to Rick to tell him that he had saved his wife’s life.

Reflecting on his life-saving actions during an interview last week, Rick was self-effacing. “It’s not like I did anything heroic; I just did what I was taught to do in the CPR class.”

His 15-year-old son, Benjamin, interjected to respectfully disagree. “No matter what he says, he’s a hero. He saved mom’s life,” Benjamin contended.

Erica, who is doing much better today with help from medications and a tiny defibrillator implant similar to a pacemaker, told me that she’s looking forward to her 56th birthday and first “re-birthday” early next month. She recalled that the doctors and nurses she’d worked with call her a “walking miracle.” But she knows that the real “miracle” is a husband who used his CPR training when it mattered most.

“Had he not performed CPR, I would have died,” says Erica.

As it turns out, most of Rick’s colleagues at Exchange Bank have also learned CPR as part of a county program, Save Lives Sonoma, which trains people on the technique as well as how to use external defibrillator devices, also known as AEDs, that are now available in many public places.

According to Tami Bender, Healthquest CPR manager with the Petaluma Health Care District, the program trains hundreds of seventh-graders throughout the county each year on CPR. Since the training program began three years ago, Bender said that two junior high school students in Petaluma subsequently used the technique to successfully treat their parents who were suffering heart attacks.

Nationwide, only about 8 percent of people suffering sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital receive CPR from a bystander, Tami says, a statistic she’d like to see change. With more people trained in CPR more lives can be saved, she says.

Tami told me last week that she’s very excited about the rollout of a brand new Save Lives Sonoma program, PulsePoint, which enables those trained in CPR to download an app which notifies them if they are within 1,200 feet of a possible sudden cardiac arrest incident in a public space. The app also directs potential rescuers to the location of the nearest AED device.

CPR training takes about three to four hours. To sign up for a class with the Petaluma Health Care District, go to phcd.org/healthquest.

(John Burns is former publisher of the Petaluma Argus-Courier. He can be reached at john.burns@arguscourier.com.)

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