Anna Harleen: Bill Sick and Shawn Sima had met previously at church and the gym before their lives collided in a trying and profound way. In 2016, Bill saved the life of Shawn’s daughter Lexi when she went into sudden cardiac arrest at the gym. Lexi, who was 16 at the time, was an avid athlete and was running on the treadmill when her heart suddenly stopped. Bill saw her collapse and immediately responded by performing CPR and delivering two shocks with an AED to save her life. Bill and Shawn, tell us the story of that night. Here’s Bill.
Bill Sick: That was a very interesting night that we had. I had gone into the Sun Bay gym where Shawn and I were members and I was working out in the evening time and it was late. There were only about a dozen people there at the gym. I had noticed a young lady come to my forward right just 12 feet from me or so onto a treadmill. And the reason why I took notice was she was wearing a brace on her leg. And I thought, my, how is she going to run on a treadmill with a brace on her leg? So I was literally watching to see how she was going to do that. And after just moments on that machine, very much to my shock and surprise, she just buckled down and she flew off the machine. Probably went four to five feet backwards over a two foot wall. So she was making a dome over the wall and was obviously completely unconscious.
Anna Harleen: Lexi had gone into sudden cardiac arrest, a life threatening condition where her heart unexpectedly stopped beating properly. If she didn’t receive help right away, she would die within minutes.
Bill Sick: My reaction was an instinct because I had three other instances where I was able to help people that were unconscious prior to Lexi. And it’s just an instinct in my, you know, in my gut to help people when they’re in trouble. I was over to her side, literally in three seconds. There was another gentleman that also came and he was just a few seconds behind me. We moved her off the wall. We worked on her for quite some time, administering, you know, CPR and also compressions and mouth to mouth. And I mean, it was just devastating to see this beautiful young lady, this precious life that we may or may not be able to help
Anna Harleen: Without a heartbeat Lexi’s brain was not receiving any of the oxygen that it needed to survive. So by performing chest compressions during CPR, Bill was acting as an artificial pump that delivered blood and oxygen to her brain. However, CPR alone can not restart the heart. Bill needed an AED to get Lexi’s heart beating again.
Bill Sick: I was very, very, very, very happy when we got about four or five minutes into the resuscitation efforts to call out and say things aren’t going as well as we’d like to, is there an AED here? And it was brought to us immediately. The batteries were charged as they should have been. And it was the only thing that saved Lexi’s life. We were handed the AED and the AED was administered. When it was administered the first time, not much happened on their first shock. The second one that girl came back, I mean, I knew she was back and I knew it would be a struggle for her, but she was back. And I’m telling you, it brings tears to my eyes when I think about that.
Anna Harleen: With every passing minute after her heart had stopped, Lexi’s chances of survival decreased by 7-10%. Had Bill and the other bystanders not responded, she would have likely not been alive by the time that EMS arrived.
Bill is an amazing example of a normal person that, by taking action, was able to save someone’s life. And while Bill and the other lay responders in the gym worked to save Lexi, other people stood back. And when it comes to sudden cardiac arrest, the worst thing that you can do is nothing. Anyone can take action and respond to a sudden cardiac arrest by doing three things: calling 911, pushing hard and fast on the center of the chest, and using an AED to restart the heart. As Bill describes, the most important thing that you can do is to take action.
Bill Sick: My instinct is always to help people. It always has been an internal thing that drives me to help and assist. If somebody doesn’t help, that person doesn’t have a chance. And I noticed at the gym that evening that almost everybody stood back. They stood way back. They didn’t even want to go on over. Getting involved in a critical situation, such as this, is important. Even though you don’t maybe have the skill sets or whatever, you can still assist.
Anna Harleen: While this was happening at the gym, Shawn was with the rest of his family down the street at a benefit for his son’s lacrosse team. The coach a local judge was speaking at the event when Shawn began getting repeated calls from a friend.
Shawn Sima: The coach of the lacrosse team was actually one of the judges in our area. Judge Crawford. Who’s a very stern guy. So each time my phone rang, I hit ignore. And my friend that was at the gym, he probably called me four or five times before he figured out I wasn’t gonna answer. So he texted me and said, “Hey, you need to get over here. Your daughter is not doing well. You need to come right away.” And just the initial shock if you’re a parent or you have somebody you love dearly, you know, those kinds of words just stop you in your tracks. So I ran over to the gym. It was around a block. And right when I was getting to the door of the gym, the fire department was getting there as well.
And there was an ambulance. I walked into the room and there was a crowd of people. And I remember distinctly, I saw my daughter, she looked gray, ashy, her eyes were still rolled up. And all I recall is Bill telling me she’s back. She’s breathing. She has a pulse. And honestly it didn’t register with me. You know, it wasn’t what I expected. I expected a broken leg or a shoulder or something bad, but not, not what was actually happening. So Bill, and another lady with Bill, were basically like, she’s okay, just hang in there. You know, breathe. I’ve been to war, I grew up rough. I’ve seen a lot of things. I consider myself physically strong and emotionally strong, but nothing prepares you for that. I remember just laying on the ground. And I remember Bill, you were one of the only people that I remember from that night. And there were a lot of people in that gym that night because there was a membership drive. But the only initial information that I got about what happened to my daughter came from Bill.
Bill Sick: Yeah. If you don’t mind me interjecting at this moment, it was about at the 11 or 12 minute mark when EMS arrived. We could hear them outside. And I saw Shawn running in the door. He came on over and he was absolutely in shock when he saw his daughter on the ground. I grabbed him before he got to his daughter. I held him on his shoulders. I said, she’s okay. She’s okay. She’s breathing, she’s got a pulse back. And so Shawn is absolutely correct. I wanted him to know before he went any further that his precious daughter was okay. And it was because of the AED that she was okay.
Anna Harleen: Shawn saw his daughter on the ground, dead and then brought back to life through the actions of bystanders and an AED. This harrowing experience informs both the deep gratitude that he has for Bill and the others that rescued Lexi as well as his passionate advocacy for legislation to improve cardiac arrest survival.
Shawn Sima: Without Bill and Jack Rose. There was another gentleman, John Lynch, and then the young lady that ran to get the AED, a girl named Amanda Miller. I don’t know where I’m at. Honestly, I don’t know how I could have done it. I don’t know. I would probably be a gutter drunk, honestly. I don’t know. But I tell everybody, everything that we do started with four people, including Bill that night. Like he said, there’s a lot of people that step back when stuff starts happening. There’s only a few that step forward. He stepped forward and he made a decision that night to help a little girl who was dead. She wasn’t passed out. She didn’t have a broken leg. My daughter was dead. I mean, it doesn’t even seem real that I’m saying it.
And these people stepped forward and they used a skill. And I thoroughly believe they didn’t know CPR, they would have figured out some way. As Bill said, thank God that AED was working. Not too long before that, I don’t know if he knows this, but that AED was dead. And the owner of that gym, Tony Hopkins, who was losing the gym, noticed that that AED was dead and that the pads were expired. So he replaced them. And that’s not cheap. That’s not like going to buy Duracell batteries at the grocery store. I mean, he invested, and those five people are part of my family. You can ask Bill, at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, I thank them because they gave back everything to us. Without them and God putting them in that position, none of this happened, honestly.
Maybe it does. Maybe we pull through this and we’re strong enough. Like a lot of families do and we get involved in the sudden cardiac arrest movement. I made deals with God in the emergency room over in Orlando that night. And I begged him, please give us a chance to have our daughter. And somehow, some way we would pay it forward. Again, none of this happens without Bill Sick. I’ve got to see my daughter graduate high school. I got to see my daughter go off to college. I hope one day I get to walk her down the aisle and hold my grandkids. And every other thing that’s going to happen in our lives, including the next Christmas and others holidays, it’s because of these guys. And of course, God who had his plan. But without these people that stepped forward and did what they did, I don’t know if there’s this movement and so many lives saved and the hunger to help others. And I love Bill and Jack and John and Amanda, like they’re our family. I mean, they did something that nobody else in this world could ever do other than God. And that’s to give back the most precious thing we own. You learn what’s important in life when you’re looking at what you love most, your flesh and blood, dead on the ground. And these people gave it back to us.
Bill Sick: You know, Shawn, I need to respond to that because we went from a very scary bleak moment, just a few minutes before you walked in. When that AED was administered, we switched from that moment, as bad as it was, to pure hope and a life again situation. God had a huge part in saving that beautiful girl, because he knew exactly what your family, including Lexi herself, would do to push the use of AEDs. I saw that machine work, I saw it save a life where there was nothing more that we could do. And I would love to see anybody and everybody in this world have one of those units in a school situation, in an office situation, in an athletic situation. Because I don’t want to see any more Lexis on the ground. I want to see Lexis up and helping people, showing us that smile and that energy she has. And I don’t ever want to see another person on their ground without an AED right there for them. I don’t. And I want to thank Shawn because Shawn has been unbelievable since that day.
Anna Harleen: Shawn is not only the father of a sudden cardiac arrest survivor and the champion of legislation to improve sudden cardiac arrest survival, he’s also a rescuer like Bill. Last year, the medical director of the Space Coast Marathon approached him to help prepare the race for cardiac arrest emergencies.
Shawn Sima: He said, I’ve never had a cardiac event. And he said, you got me scared, your scare tactics are working and I’m nervous. He said, I want you to come on the team and I want you to train our volunteers on hands-only CPR. This year, we’re going to have 15 AEDs for this marathon. And I really want to be ready. He said, I really am nervous about this for some reason. So sure enough, I set up two or three hands-only CPR trainings. We taught the whole team hands-only CPR. We broke open an AED and showed them how simple it is to use. We were ready to go.
Anna Harleen: That training and preparation proved to be critical. Shawn was approached by a volunteer who said someone had collapsed here at the finish line. Shawn has taught countless people CPR this however, was the first time he ever responded to an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.
Shawn Sima: So I sprinted over and sure enough there was a gentleman who was dead on the ground. He was agonal breathing with no real pattern to his breathing. There was a lady doing CPR on him. And immediately we got in there. I took over CPR, started doing the chest compressions. In my mind, I thought how surreal it was looking down at his face. He was not there. He was dead. He was pasty white. He looked like my Lexi with eyes rolled up in his head. Lips were white. He was gray and ashy looking. I was doing CPR and we had an EMT there that was doing breaths with the bag. We worked and we worked and we worked and we shocked and we shocked and we shocked with the AED. Originally, we didn’t get a pulse back. The ambulance got there and they put him in an ambulance and they took him away.
Anna Harleen: Once the ambulance came, Shawn didn’t know whether the man in cardiac arrest made it to the hospital alive or not. He was still working at the marathon when he got a call.
Shawn Sima: Couple of hours later I got a call from Dr. Perry, the medical director at the hospital and he said, “dude, the guy is alive.” I couldn’t believe it. They took him to the cath lab where he got stents and yada, yada, yada, the rest sorta went blank. But he said, “they’re from North Carolina, if you want to go up and meet this guy, you need to go up tomorrow because they’re probably going to release him in two days.” I couldn’t believe it because, in my mind, I thought there’s no way that he made it. It was just an incredible day. I know how Bill and the other folks feel to give back life. To give somebody back their life, it’s just incredible. It really is.
Anna Harleen: For these two responders, they’ve seen AED in action saving lives. Now wherever they go, they not only notice AEDs, but want to make sure that they’re working properly without expired batteries or electrode pads.
Shawn Sima: If I go into a place and the AED is dead, I’m taking a photo. I won’t throw them under the bus. I don’t always say where I see it. But you would be shocked if you knew the places where we have found non-functioning AEDs, places where 2000 kids at least play soccer, where hundreds of kids play football, where hundreds of people go to the gym. It’s one of the first things that I do anywhere. Publix, Walmart, wherever I go I’m looking for the AED. I take it very, very seriously. You’re better off not having one then having an expired AED. That’s terrible to say, but it’s the absolute truth. AEDs are not wash-and-wear; you have to keep an eye on the batteries and keep an eye on the electrode pad expiration dates.
Bill Sick: You know, personally, I’ve gone from noticing that those units were on the wall, but wondering what the heck they do, to now looking every single time I go somewhere, I don’t just notice AEDs. I go over to somebody and say, thank you for having that. And Shawn, you make a very, very good point. They are just like a fire alarm system. Change your batteries once a year because that will save a life. I noticed them all of the time now. It’s had a really profound effect. The way I look at AEDs now, it’s not just something hanging on a wall. It’s something that’s actually saved a life. Somebody that I know, a friend of my son’s, Lexi Sima.
Anna Harleen: For Shawn, that night and Bill’s actions have profoundly impacted his life. They motivate his current advocacy for sudden cardiac arrest legislation, screenings, and awareness.
Shawn Sima: Bill, thank you for doing this. You’re an incredible human and I love you. There’s just no other way to put it man. You’re a brother on so many levels. As I said earlier, you did something for me that, there’s just no other way to put it, but thank you. And I love you and thank you for doing this and everything that happens. There was a kid today from one of our heart screenings that just got surgery that potentially saved his life. Yesterday I got notified that we’re waiting on the governor to sign a big sports bill that will require coaches to be trained on CPR and that AEDs will be everywhere where kids are practicing and playing.
And Bill, I got to say brother, I just don’t know if any of it happens without you. Maybe it does. Maybe I put on my big boy pants and I continue on, but I don’t know how I would have done it. You know, every time that you see me post something, you must take credit for it because none of this happens without you. You and that group of people who stepped forward and said, we are not going to watch a young kid die on the ground. And I can’t say it publicly enough, how much I love you and how much I thank you for that.
Bill Sick: I’ll tell you, there’s only one thank you that I need. God put me in the right position to be there, and the others that helped Lexi that night. And it was just instinct. It’s a privilege, man. And Shawn, I love you like a brother. Absolutely. While I was sitting here today, thinking about what I might say, boy I tell you there were tears in my eyes. Tears of joy, you know. But I’ll tell you one thing. When I went home that night and my son said, what happened dad? And I said, I had to help somebody in distress, I think her name was Seena or something like that. I think her first name was Lexi. He goes, Lexi Sima? He says, that’s my friend, dad. It really hit home at that moment. Not only was I able to affect a person’s life, and Shawn in his family’s life. It affected everybody else who knows her, including my own son. I mean it was full circle that night when I talked to him, my heart fell on the ground at that moment.
Anna Harleen: Sudden cardiac arrest often strikes without warning and it can affect seemingly healthy young people like Lexi. Among the many things that we can learn from Shawn and Bill, remember to make sure that there is always a charged well-maintained AED wherever you go to exercise, work, learn, or play. Anyone can save a life from sudden cardiac arrest. You just need a few very simple skills and tools to respond.