Part I: “Dad’s Breathing Funny”
In Part One of our three-part series, we learn how one man’s ordinary evening became the first day of his “second life.”
Many wrongly assume that sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a heart attack, incorrectly associating it with lifestyle and behavior traits like a poor diet and lack of exercise. Others don’t know what to think because the condition never had reason to cross their mind.
“I’m a father of three children. My daughter at the time had just turned 12 three days before and I had two sons who are three and six. The day of my cardiac arrest was actually March 26, 2016 and as it turned out, that was the day before Easter. It started out pretty straight forward day, probably familiar to a lot of people. My six year old had a baseball game, so I took him to his little league game and then, that afternoon our family went to another family’s home to dye Easter eggs. The kids had a good time doing that. In the evening after dinner, I went out for a couple errands to the hardware store and the like, and then came back as my wife was putting our sons to bed and my daughter was doing her homework. I went and sent a text or handyman about a door lock we had to get fixed and then decided I’d take a nap for maybe half an hour before I had to go and remind my daughter to get ready for bed.
So I laid out in the couch in the living room … and that’s the last thing I remember from that night,”
shares Alex during a recent interview with Revive Solutions.
“Basically what happened, it was about 8:25 at night and my daughter heard what she thought was snoring and it was loud enough that she came out from her room and tried to wake me up and kind of stop me and she couldn’t. And so she went and called to my wife and said, ‘dad’s breathing funny!’”
In what sounds like the casual observation of an elementary-aged child, Alex’s daughter unknowingly set off a chain of events that lead to saving her father’s life.
When his wife arrived at his side, panicked and unsure of what was going on, she shook him to wake him up. Unresponsive to her calls, she saw that her husband’s face was “like a death mask.”. His wife sent their daughter to their neighbors’s house for help, while she dialed 911.
Alex was in sudden cardiac arrest, a condition where a heart suddenly falls into an irregular heart rhythm. The first symptom commonly comes without prior warning, and it leads to death if not taken care of immediately.
In a stroke of luck, his neighbors were close by and reacted quickly. One neighbor, a pre-school teacher, was familiar with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), a lifesaving procedure of manually “pumping” oxygen-rich blood through the body, to vital organs and the brain, buying the victim time until the heart can be restored to a normal rhythm with a “shock” from a defibrillator.
“So she and her husband and another male neighbor came in and started doing CPR. And meanwhile my wife’s on the phone to the 911 dispatcher and the 911 operator’s instructing her to get me off the couch, start doing CPR and the fire and EMS had been a rolled with an unresponsive person call,” Alex continued.
Due to another call in the area, for which dispatch had sent police, fire, and EMS, help was nearby.
“The Engine 64 was the first one to get here. They’ve got a paramedic onboard. My daughter was still outside. Like I said, she turned 12 three days earlier and she was out with the neighbor’s daughter who’s was in high school. The guys on the engine told me that my daughter just about pulled them out of the truck. She was like, ‘You’ve got to help my dad! Hurry up, hurry up!’ And so they hustled even more as they realized that this is something a little bit more than just a routine ‘not responsive’ call. So they came and right behind them was the first police officer, which is Wes who is trained on AEDs. He actually runs the AED program for the police department. And so they came in and a couple of them were doing CPR on me. And my friend Jim is one of the firefighters. He was, you know, doing CPR. And he said to me later, when he first looked at me he thought I looked dead, but he’s like, “You’re not going on my watch.’ And so they just went at it and they rigged me up with the AED and they did one shock and I came back to sinus rhythm after one…”
“I actually have the ECG trace, they gave me a recording of it. So I have a snapshot that shows the V-fib portion and then when they administered the shock and then the sinus rhythm portion coming back. So I have the actual moment that they revive me with the AED, in that recording. So it’s pretty amazing to me,” Alex described with exuberance, as though it was his first time telling the story.
While thankful for everyone involved in saving his life – from his family members, neighbors, to paramedics – if his daughter had not come out of her room and responded to his unusual breathing, it would have been too late, Alex said.
“All the EMS responders credit my daughter for coming out because if she hadn’t come and gotten me, you know, they would have come out a couple of hours later, it will be too late. So you know, they really recognize her,” he added.
Read Part Two of Alex’s story to hear what happened next and the impact his aborted sudden death had on his family during the immediate aftermath while his doctors and caregivers waited for him to come out of his medically-induced coma.
Note: while this account and all quotes used in this series are real, the victim’s name and the name of all other parties involved have been changed to protect the privacy of the victim and his family.