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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
Vincent Raaijmakers was minutes from being a number in a harrowing cardiac arrest statistic when he stepped off a treadmill at an LA Fitness gym west of Boca Raton on June 11.
Instead, he's an example of how a small machine and a heroic bystander can save a person suffering from a phenomenon that takes the lives of 400,000 people a year.
Raaijmakers grew light-headed after stepping off the treadmill, a warm-up to a workout he did three times a week, when his heart suddenly stopped functioning from an electrical disturbance -- a cardiac arrest. The fit 52-year-old lost consciousness and fell to the ground, cutting his head.
His 15-year-old daughter, Florienne, was not far away but became dizzy at the sight of her father on the ground, blood spilling from his head, turning purple.
That's when Aram Sarkisyan, an off-duty nurse at Delray Medical Center who was working out at the gym, stepped in. He called out for a portable defibrillator, not knowing whether the gym had one. Thankfully, it did.
Sarkisyan shocked Raaijmakers' heart back into function as Raaijmakers drew slow breaths and color returned to his face.
"You might think this is unusual," said Dr. Alan Zelcer, a cardiologist at Delray Medical Center and who later treated Raaijmakers, "but it's not. The reason so many people die from (cardiac arrest) is because they don't have access to one of these devices."
About 400,000 people die each year from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest -- 10 times the number killed by breast cancer, Zelcer said.
Zelcer, who reunited with Sarkisyan and Raaijmakers at the hospital Thursday, pointed to the gym's portable defibrillator, which costs between $1,000 and $1,200.
Every gym, fitness studio and other high-energy facility should have one on hand, Zelcer said. "These people can be saved."
It takes first responders 10 minutes on average to respond to an emergency call. Cardiac arrest kills much quicker.
"If it was not for you," Raaijmakers said to Sarkisyan, "my kids would not have a father."
Raaijmakers and his daughter, the youngest of three, thanked the nurse, giving him a bottle of Champagne and a gift card. They were grateful for the quick and "heroic" action he took that day.
"I'm so thankful for the way things passed that day," Florienne said.
But anyone, "even a sixth-grader," can use a portable defibrillator to save a life, Zelcer said.
The machine vocally prompts users with the steps to administer a shock that can restore heartbeat.
"You just follow instructions and you're able to bring someone back," Zelcer said.
Raaijmakers was rushed to Delray Medical Center where he had open-heart surgery to repair a coronary valve defect. He spent two weeks in the intensive care unit, where his children delivered Father's Day gifts and counted their blessings to still have their dad.
"Now you're fixed," Florienne said to her father, patting him on the shoulder. He'll lead a healthy life, Zelcer said.
Sarkisyan, also a regular at the LA Fitness gym, modestly accepted the praise and gifts from his impromptu patient.
"I feel blessed that I was able to help you," he told Raaijmakers. "I think it was the right place at the right time, and I thank God for that."
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