Today is an important day for my brother-in-law, John. It’s the 5th anniversary of his death.
More importantly, it’s the 5th anniversary of an incredible story of survival.
*I originally posted this story two years ago. But today is a special day. 5 years of additional life is quite the milestone for someone who shouldn’t have survived a sudden cardiac arrest. So I thought I’d share the story again with a few updates.
One of my favorite songs to run to is “Clubbed to Death”. I know, lovely title.
It’s from the movie The Matrix, which I’ve never seen because I doubt I would understand it. This song is 7 minutes and 27 seconds long. And that inspires me to run hard because it is about the same length of time that my brother-in-law was dead.
Today is the 5 year anniversary of a really bad day. My only brother-in-law, John, was running with his local running club. They were about 50 minutes into a 60 minute run. He was struggling, profusely sweating in the late morning heat and humidity in a Midwest town. His running coach noticed him lagging behind the group. She circled back to run with him and encourage him to finish. Her decision saved his life.
She began to run alongside John. It is the last thing he remembers. Because he basically dropped dead. Not a heart attack but sudden cardiac arrest.
The Mayo Clinic defines cardiac arrest as “the abrupt loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness. The condition usually results from an electrical disturbance in your heart that disrupts its pumping action, stopping blood flow to your body. If not treated immediately, sudden cardiac arrest can lead to death.”
Luckily, she acted immediately and began CPR. For over 7 minutes. Almost 8. Which is about the length of this song. The song has a strong beat, which reminds me of a beating heart.
Eventually another bystander joined her and, working together, they kept blood pumping through John’s body and oxygen flowing into his lungs. 7+ minutes of CPR is an eternity. In my training, we were taught that there is a 10% decrease in survival rates for every minute of CPR administered outside of a hospital setting. John’s chances were not good.
Just imagine running hard for 1 hour. Then you see someone collapse and begin the struggle to save a life. I’ve been told that CPR is exhausting. In training classes, I am wiped out after a 2 minute cycle. I cannot imagine what these people did. But they fought for John and kept going. They broke six ribs and his sternum, which means CPR was done correctly.
When the ambulance finally arrived, the EMTs found John still flat lining. He would be told later that no one expected him to live. In fact, he might not have survived even if he had coded in a hospital with a trained cardiac team on hand. The best case scenario was a vastly altered life with serious brain damage.
I was in Michigan visiting my in-laws when I received a call from my sister. I immediately drove to the hospital with a couple of my kids. Within a few days, John had quadruple by-pass surgery. He was 51 years old at the time. A physically fit, non-smoking, non-drinking middle age man. His father had a heart attack at the exact same age.
John has completely recovered, throwing himself 150% into maintaining an even healthier life style. He has started running again, seemingly fearless of a repeat event. He has accepted the limitations of his own body and made the necessary adjustments. He cannot eat many things that most of us would consider healthy: chicken, fish, eggs, olive oil, or avocados. Which leaves mostly vegetables and beans. His body simply cannot process any type of fat. I asked him if this lifestyle is difficult to maintain. He said the desire to live, particularly for my sister and his two daughters, is stronger than any food temptation. But he does miss the avocados.
He is a gift to me. I have known him since I was in 6th grade. I was the maid-of-honor in their wedding. He has known me through grade school, high school, college, and beyond. We talk books, movies, and current events. We fight about politics from time to time. He has been a great support to me over the years. He even helped me select a graduate course of studies, recognizing an ability in me that I didn’t know I possessed. A successful attorney and law professor at Notre Dame, he is a gift to others as well. I can’t imagine life without him.
I highly recommend that everyone be trained in CPR. The American Red Cross offers a program in Hands-Only CPR, which means no mouth-to-mouth breaths are given. Please take the time to read about this method of CPR. I’ve included the steps here, directly from the American Red Cross website. Even better, watch a few online videos and take a class.
Someone’s life could depend on it.
If you see a teen or adult suddenly collapse, hands-only CPR is the recommended form of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). It not only increases the likelihood of surviving breathing and cardiac emergencies that occur outside of medical settings, but it’s simple to learn and easy to remember.
Before Giving CPR
- Check the scene and the person. Check to make sure the scene is safe, tap the person on the shoulder to see if they’re OK, and look for signs of rhythmic, normal breathing.
2 Call 911 for assistance. If there’s no response from the victim when asked if he or she is OK, call 911, or ask a bystander to call for help.
3. Begin compressions. If the person is unresponsive, perform hands-only CPR.
How to Perform Hands-Only CPR
- Kneel beside the person who needs help.
2. Place the heel of one hand on the center of the chest.
3. Place the heel of the other hand on top of the first hand, then lace your fingers together.
4 Position your body so that your shoulders are directly over your hands, and keep your arms straight.
5. Push hard, push fast. Use your body weight to help you administer compressions that are at least 2 inches deep and delivered at a rate of at least 100 compressions per minute. (Just be sure to let chest rise completely between compressions.)
6. Keep pushing. Continue hands-only CPR until you see obvious signs of life, like breathing, another trained responder or EMS professional can take over, you’re too exhausted to continue, an AED becomes available, or the scene becomes unsafe.