Employees Save Gym Member from Heart Attack

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The Virginian — Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)


Nationally, the survival rate of the nearly 325,000 who suffer a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital setting averages between six and seven percent. The survival rate in Chesapeake, however, is about 12 percent — almost twice the national average.

Indian River resident Michael Lee, 65, is one of the fortunate few to survive such a medical emergency.

Lee wasn't just lucky. His outcome was affected by three key factors when he suffered a heart attack at the Indian River Community Center on Old Greenbrier Road on Wednesday, Oct. 4.

Lee survived because CPR was administered within five to seven minutes of his collapse, a defibrillator was available on-site and a trained staff member knew exactly what to do.

Lee was playing pickleball in the gym of the community center and was feeling fine after completing a round of dialysis earlier that morning. It was not the first time he went to the gym after a dialysis session.

Lee and his partner had just won a point, and Lee was getting ready to serve. He picked up the ball, walked three steps and started feeling dizzy. Lee said he had never felt quite like that before.

"I told my partner that I felt dizzy. I didn't feel right. I collapsed on him. He tried to catch me," Lee said. "After that, I remember the passing out part, and I remember coming back."

While Lee has a history of heart ailments and had a quadruple bypass performed about 10 years ago, he had never experienced cardiac arrest. When he had his heart checked last year, his doctor gave him a good report.

Lee is extremely grateful that Michelle Ellison, a recreational specialist at the center, quickly took charge and immediately began to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). She instructed staff members to call 911 and called for the automated external defibrillator (AED), a portable device that sends an electric shock to the heart to try and restore a normal rhythm.

She attached the pads and applied the shock to Lee's chest.

Lee revived.

He sat up, declared he was OK and felt like continuing his game of pickleball. Ellison advised against it and suggested he lie back down until paramedics arrived. First responders then transported Lee to Chesapeake Regional Medical Center for evaluation and treatment.

"From the time I woke up until now, I have never really felt bad. I have never felt dizzy, shortness of breath or anything," Lee said.

Ellison, who teaches CPR, hurried to the center's gym after being alerted by several pickleball players that one of the seniors was in distress. Lee was going in and out of consciousness. Ellison laid him on his back and checked his vital signs.

"His vital signs were fading quickly. They faded to none. He had no pulse. I immediately started CPR. I asked for the AED," Ellison recalled. "I was familiar with the procedure, but this was my first time ever where I had to (actually) do CPR.

"I've done first aid — broken bones and bloody noses — but this was the real deal."

Ada Harris was among the staff members at Indian River Community Center who assisted Ellison in her efforts to revive Lee.

"We're so thankful to have Michelle on board with us. She jumped. She didn't panic. She remained calm through all of this," Harris said. "It was something to see. He was dead. I'll forever remember that day."

Harris brought the defibrillator to Ellison in the gym and relayed messages and information from the 911 dispatcher while Lena Ingram kept in constant contact with emergency medical services.

"It was overwhelming to be a part of that. Michelle always said that we worked as a team," Harris said. "It was all about teamwork. It was Michelle, myself and Lena."

Lt. Forrest Winslow of the Chesapeake Fire Department pointed out that the element of time is a critical factor in determining the outcome of a cardiac arrest.

"Mr. Lee was lucky because his cardiac arrest occurred in public with witnesses who were trained to do what needed to be done, and they had a defibrillator available," Winslow said.

Time without circulation equates to death of the brain tissue, Winslow said, so responders ideally want to start CPR immediately and get the defibrillator to the victim as soon as possible to decrease the chance of brain damage.

Another tool in the first responder arsenal is a smartphone application called PulsePoint, used by the city of Chesapeake.

"Other municipal areas have it as well," Winslow said. "It alerts responders through our 911 dispatch center."

After the free application is downloaded to a phone, PulsePoint app users will receive a notification if someone within a quarter-mile is in cardiac arrest and needs CPR. It will navigate the user to the victim's location as long as it is in a public place.

"We offer (CPR) training to (Chesapeake) citizens, and that's held the first Thursday of every month at 6 p.m. at the Central Library in Great Bridge — hands only CPR and AED use," Winslow said. "We also talk about PulsePoint."

Michael Lee is living proof of the importance of learning these life-saving skills and procedures.

"I am very grateful to Michelle," Lee said. "I would not have made it if Michelle didn't know what to do and if the center didn't have the equipment available to do it."

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December 17, 2017


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