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Barbershop Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Barbershop Sudden Cardiac Arrest

April 20, 2020 | Last Updated: September 16, 2021

How Wendell saved his own life

A common refrain in the AED industry is that “you can’t use an AED on yourself.” And, while true, you can still seek help even during the worst of times. For Wendell, he was able to recognize his symptoms and get himself to an urgent care clinic, just in time to save his life.

At the Cardiac Arrest Survival Summit, Wendell sat down to share what he remembers before, during, and after his brush with death.

In this video you’ll learn…

  • The first symptoms Wendell experienced and how he knew something was wrong
  • What went through his mind just prior to going into cardiac arrest
  • How he got himself to get help, saving his own life


  • (00:56) Initial pain and “lying to yourself”
  • (02:20) Wendell’s last thoughts
  • (03:10) Wendell drives himself gets himself to a nearby clinic
  • (05:15) Wendell going in and out of consciousness while communicating with responders
  • (07:30) Coping with recovery

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Full Transcript

Wendell (00:06):

So my name is Wendell. I’m from Ellenton, Florida. I’m a barber. I have a pretty interesting life. I’ve, I’m kind of a Renaissance man cause I’m involved in a lot of things. I’m a retired lawyer and I’m a barber and I’ve written a lot of books, screenplays a lot of songs. So I have a lot of different things going on in my life. I’m a private pilot and things like that. So, but anyway, 62 years old and in two days on Thursday where this Tuesday and two days will be my first rebirth date. My first anniversary of this thing that happened to me when I was into the barbershop. It was cold even for Florida, nobody was there. My other barber was out, back smoking and I got this terrible pain right on my sternum. 

Wendell (00:56):

Really bad pain, you know, and the first thing that happens is you, you know, there’s a split second where you go, Oh my gosh, I’m having a heart attack. And then you start lying to yourself and you started telling yourself you’re having indigestion, you know, and gas. And so I got up and kind of walked over to the shop and I went over by the jukebox, you know, and I have this pain and I’m thinking, man, what did I eat? You know, still lying to yourself cause it’s really true. You still like, and what did I eat? You know? And uh, and there’s a part of you, there’s another part of your brain back here is going to cause a lot of things going on in your head. And this part back here that’s going to, you know, supplying yourself. You know, you’re having a heart attack. 

Wendell (01:34):

But you’re going to know, no, that’s not true. Having gas with cold sweats and rubbery legs and a skin, the color of granite, you know, but it’s not, you know, you know, you’re, you know, you’re lying to yourself. And I actually turned to walk back to my chair. And, um, before I realized that I was actually walking on my knees, I had dropped to my knees and voluntarily and then the pain started to subside. So I got up in my chair and I pulled up my phone. Honestly, I’m still pulling my phone. I, and I clicked what are some esophageal issues that mimic a heart attack? I still lying to myself. And then I look in a mirror and look at my face in the mirror. And that voice back here said, you, where are you gonna do it? You’re gonna keep lying to yourself. 

Wendell (02:14):

You can do something. Nobody was in the shop. And I thought, well, I get, maybe I should get Debbie, take me over to the walk in clinic. She’s my other barber. But I thought, well then I started thinking, well, I’ve wasted a lot of time. So I got up and I thought, well, I’m going to make my way to do something here. Um, cause the pain started returned and I walked over to the window and I picked up. We have a great big picture window and it looks out across the road to a 19th century sugar plantation. It’s all, you know, a restorative, beautiful view. Um, and uh, I took a sip of water and I looked at this view and then all those thoughts in my head went away. And I only had one thought, this is it. This is the last time you’re ever gonna see this building. 

Wendell (02:57):

That’s the last time you’re ever going to feel the needs, your fee. This is your last day. And I wasn’t scared and I wasn’t sad. I was kind of annoyed that life was over so quickly. But then I thought, well, I don’t want to die in the barbershop. So I made my way out the back door and into my car and I drove half a block to the walk-in clinic. And I stumbled in, I staggered and I splayed out on the, she said, are you having chest pains? And I said, ah, you know, or something like that. And so they got me hooked up. They called nine 11. They put me into a room and he threw a bunch of a baby aspirin and nitroglycerin. And then, um, the ambulance came and the paramedic came in and she said, well, do you have an am I here? 

Wendell (03:39):

And he looked at the he looked at the EKG and he said, well, he said, yeah, I think so. When he looked at the EKG right in front of me, he said, Oh, Jesus. And so I told him, even then, I said, man, I supposed to say that in front of me, you know, you know, that’s not very good bedside. He’s, and he didn’t even respond to that because the grave situation that I didn’t realize, and he said, he dragged me and put me on the, on the buggy and they put me out and they pushed me back into the ambulance and I heard it click. And that’s the last thing I remember. And what I found out later is that a young lady who’s a medical assistant there, and she was a nursing student, she was coming out behind the gurney carrying my jacket, my shirt, whatever. 

Wendell (04:17):

And, um, and she saw my eyes roll back into my head and she knew. And so she jumped up into the she jumped up into the back of the ambulance and, and she, she began CPR and, and this is the thing, and you may not think this, that, but this is true that I was having a Widowmaker heart attack, a hundred percent blockage of the left anterior descending artery. And I didn’t know that, but they did because, and I know that now because I’ve done a tremendous amount of research and education since this happened, but he could look at the EKG and he knew how bad this was, which I think is pretty awesome that you can do that. Anyway, so she saw me, she saw me, my eyes rolled back in my head and she started getting CPR. And the guy who runs, who was in charge of EMS down there in Manatee County, Florida, where I’m from, he said, um, he said unequivocally, if she doesn’t start, he see CPR is, you’re not here. 

Wendell (05:08):

That’s it. It’s over CPR immediately. You know, when something like that. And she, I was so lucky to have everything happen. Exactly. Cause you know, a lot of people, they don’t make a lot of times cause they’re asleep when they have their, you know, I mean they didn’t, nobody knows. But I was still very, very lucky at the, I didn’t deserve it. And um, so she, she beat me up real good and they hit me with the defib and they got me this really cool part too cause they, they got me back and I was out about five minutes and they brought me back and she’s a welcome back. You know, don’t do that again. I said, why is that? She told me and I said, okay. She goes, don’t do it again. I said, okay, well here’s the thing. I didn’t know they put a firefighter in the back of the ambulance with me and he made me talk with my eyes open all the way to the hospital. 

Wendell (05:56):

He wouldn’t let me close my eyes and he wouldn’t let me stop talking. Tell me everything that happened today. And I guess I understood why, but I went in to know to later was, is Andrew, who’s the E M T and he’s driving the ambulance and he said, um, he, they never resuscitated anyone who made it to the hospital. Did you know that? That’s the truth. That’s a big deal. I didn’t know that either. You watch TV, you think everybody gets resuscitated? No, of course we know now that, but he said, ah, so that they have me talking all the way to the hospital. Um, what happened today? What’d you eat? What happened? Tell me. And I told the whole story and I know he got to the hospital and the hospital’s being renovated and where they have to park the ambulance and where do they have to drag you to? 

Wendell (06:35):

The cath lab is pretty far. And uh, so here pushed me and I’m, I’m looking up, you know, of course I’m in the game and I’m starting to get a little motion sick because there’s all these different images coming in. I said, can I please just close my eyes? Nope. Just for a second. No, they got me in a cath lab and um, and I’m starting to get scared for the first time I was starting to really get scared, which is really weird because now, you know, cause the doctor looked down and he says, how are you doing this? I said, well, little scared. He goes, okay, okay, you, you’re okay. You, you know, you, this is the law. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. We got you. And then I coded again. That’s right. When I went to into arrest again, and I didn’t know that till a long time afterward, but they didn’t resuscitate me. 

Wendell (07:16):

They, he was in the middle of the procedure. So he pulled out the blood clot, crammed the stint stent in there and my heart filled up with blood and then started beating again. And he said, you did so well that he checked around and he put another stent in my right coronary artery. So my heart, this is the thing I’m going to be writing a book about. Well, I’m going to be writing the book that I wish I had had after this happened to me because I had a lot of questions and I really wanted to talk to somebody who’d been through this because all my loved ones and all my friends and I were very supportive. But you know, you just needed to be with somebody who could talk your same language because you are a different person in a lot of ways, especially since if you change your lifestyle a lot, you really are like, I quit 10 cigars a day, give up the sugar and I see a lot of candy, lots of candy. 

Wendell (08:05):

And I kind of gave all that up, you know, until you are a new person. Um, but it takes a long time. So I’m, I’m focused in at this point in my life on the that those, that that year or so afterwards, you know, the other psychological and emotional things and all the depression and the pain, the real pain and the fatigue that you can’t get, you think is never going to go away particularly. So, cause you’re a little older, you know, I’ve been around long enough and I’ve been seeing these old guys and they might be in good shape and then something happens to them. Not big but something and they never quite ever get back because of their age. So I was concerned with that. And then like I said, about four weeks ago, I turned, man, I tell you, I feel so useful and so energized and uh, I still have residual pain and numbness and stiffness, but it’s sort of not in the background. 

Wendell (08:51):

It’s not as, it’s not as interfering as it once was. It I feel like, well, I can, I can manage with this, you know? So I’m really thankful, but I really wish I had had somebody in the early days. I’m a blogger. And so maybe throughout the course of this past year, eight or 10 times, I wrote my blog about how I was doing and partially to let my readers know, but also partially so that I’d have contemporaneous notes for my book, you know? So, but it’s been a life change. I mean, it’s kind of silly say so, but it’s been a huge life changing event. And I don’t recommend it. Like I talked to this one lady and she said, in Minnesota, they make every kid who’s before you graduated from high school, has to have CPR. And then they got [inaudible] and all the trooper cars and, and all, you know, a lot of the cop. So, so that’s what we’re all doing, right? We’re all trying to get more AEDs in the world, and we’re also trying to get more people, especially young people who CPR.