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Orange County Register (California)
When a man collapsed from a heart attack during a senior citizen basketball tournament at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center, two starkly different things saved his life: luck and technology.
A player on the opposing team who happened to be a retired heart surgeon rushed to help. And a quick-thinking city employee grabbed a seldom-used life-saving device that medical experts recommend all public places have: an automated external defibrillator.
The AED is a portable electronic device that diagnoses cardiac irregularities and treats them with electric shocks designed to help the heart re-establish its regular rhythm.
"You see them at Disneyland. You see them at Costco. You seem at the mall. You see them at Anaheim stadium," said Capt. Steve Concialdi, spokesman for the Orange County Fire Authority. "Any person can use one of these. The machine will walk you through every step."
Joe Pierantoni, a member of a team of 60- to 68-year-olds, is recovering from surgery after the April 11 incident, which occurred as two games were going on in the city gym.
"I'm recovering real well," Pierantoni said on Tuesday.
Milton Vana, the retired surgeon, performed chest compressions as community services coordinator Kipp Lyons grabbed the AED from a nearby office and attached it Pierantoni's chest.
Players gathered around Pierantoni, shouting encouragement, said Pam Schuler, who was helping to keep score with her husband, Jim, when Pierantoni collapsed.
"I thought he'd gone," Schuler said. "I went back to Jim and I said, 'I think he's already passed.' "
It takes a few seconds for the machine to analyze the heart attack and assess the proper shock, which can seem like an eternity to a victim's loved ones, Concialdi said.
Pierantoni responded to the shocks, Lyons said.
"You could see all the color coming back," Lyons said. "You could really see his heart beating."
Medics arrived, and Schuler saw Pierantoni breathing.
"I thought, 'That's beautiful. What a miracle,' " she said.
The community center has two automated external defibrillators; City Hall has one. The city recently spent $1,400 to replace one at the community center.
The devices were introduced to city property in 2001, said Mike Cantor, San Juan Capistrano's emergency-services manager.
Pierantoni's incident was the first time any of the city-owned devices had been used, Cantor said.
But the devices can't replace the emergency room. A victim needs paramedics to arrive in a few minutes, Concialdi said.
He said a 79-year-old man from Fort Worth, Texas, suffered a heart attack while flying to Orange County on April 22. The man responded to an AED used on the plane, but after 20 minutes of CPR, his heart fell into an non-shockable rhythm and he died, Concialdi said.
"Unfortunately, he was in the air and there were no paramedics," Concialdi said.
But for Pierantoni, who recently celebrated his 68th birthday, everything fell into place at the right time.
"It was great to have that device there. It was great to see there was a doctor there," said San Juan Capistrano Councilman Larry Kramer, who was helping to keep score at the other game when Pierantoni collapsed.
Pierantoni said he's grateful for the aid he received at the community center and at Mission Hospital.
"Those surgeons there, they really know their business," Pierantoni said. "I was very fortunate."
In a statement, City Manager Karen Brust praised Lyons' "fast thinking and heroic efforts."
"We encourage our city staff to be trained in AED so they can help others when it becomes necessary, as Kipp did," Brust said.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 949-492-5122. Twitter: @meghanncuniff.