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Andrew M. - SCA Survivor
March 26th, 2016, started out as a Saturday that would sound familiar to many fathers. I brought my 6 year-old son to his little league game in the morning, our family visited friends of ours in the afternoon to dye eggs for Easter celebrations the next day, and after dinner I made a trip to the hardware store. Around 8:25p I laid down on the couch to rest after a busy day.
I didn't open my eyes again until 2 days later, when I woke up in the Cardiac Unit of Stanford Hospital. I only know the following story of what happened during those days from what others have told me.
About 10 minutes after I lay down on the couch, my 12-year old daughter thought she heard me snoring and came out from her bedroom to try and wake me up. When she couldn't get a response she alerted my wife who was in the back room putting our two young boys to bed. When my wife saw the state I was in, she sent our daughter to get the neighbors while she dialed 911.
Fortunately three of our neighbors happened to be sitting outside chatting around a fire pit that night, and two of them had been trained in CPR. They rushed into our house, moved me to the floor, and started administering CPR while my wife relayed instructions from the 911 dispatcher.
The Palo Alto Fire and Police Departments had been alerted to an "unresponsive person" medical call; one of the fire officers told me later that when they arrived they realized the severity of the situation when my daughter "practically opened up the door and pulled us out of the truck" urging them to hurry. Fire officers and one of the police officers took over CPR while the paramedics prepared the AED equipment. At that point I was in ventricular fibrillation. After a single shock my heart returned to its normal rhythm, but I remained unconscious. I was quickly transferred to an ambulance and rushed to Stanford Hospital. Palo Alto police officers worked with our neighbors to decide where our children would spend the night after my wife left in the ambulance with me.
The Stanford Hospital Cardiology staff were at the loading dock to meet the ambulance, and a team of medical professionals swarmed around me in the ER. There was no guarantee at that point I would ever recover, but under their care I slowly worked my way back. Over the course of the next few days they iced my body down for 24 hours to preserve my brain function, administered medications and monitored my vital signs while I was still unconscious. The whole time they also worked to support my wife and family, who maintained a vigil at my bedside. I finally opened my eyes on Monday, two days after my cardiac arrest, much to the relief of my family. My first memory - after lying down on Saturday night - is from Tuesday, when a nurse asked how I felt after they removed the breathing tube. I told her my throat hurt.
I spent a total of 10 days in the hospital, but on the last day I was able to walk to the car without assistance. I was fortunate. I later learned that only about 6% of people who suffer an out of hospital cardiac arrest physically survive at all. The chances that I would fully recover both physically and neurologically were, according to my primary care physician, a fraction of a percent.
I know firsthand the alternate ending my story could have had. My father died on Thanksgiving Day in 1989 of a heart attack - the 'other' kind of cardiac event - when he was 4 years younger than I was at the time of my cardiac arrest. Like my daughter, one of my sisters was also 12 years old when she saw my father collapse, and she too was the one to raise the alarm. My father did not survive, despite having 3 nurses present to administer CPR, and more than 25 years later we still fell the hole that he left in our family.
My recovery was due to the fact that I got effective help so quickly. I was able to return home to my family, go back to work, help coach my son's soccer team in the Fall, and in general return to my life because of many circumstances that aligned in my favor. I am alive because my daughter was alert, because my wife was level-headed in a crisis, and because an interlocking chain of people - neighbors, 911 dispatchers, fire officers, police officers and medical professionals -were well-trained and in position to give me the life support I needed in a timely fashion. The combination of early CPR and the shock from the defibrillator were critical factors in my survival and recovery.
My wife and I got to thank many of the first responders who came to our house during a number of face-to-face encounters. We were also able to introduce them to the children who still have both of their parents thanks to their efforts. Among the memories I have of those meetings, one of the most powerful was watching my 4 year old son - who had slept through the chaos of the original event - look up at the first fire officer he met and tell him, "Thank you for saving my Daddy." That was the first time I realized how much even he understood how serious the situation had been.
In my Stanford Hospital record one of the cardiologists called my experience, "An interesting and very fortunate case of aborted sudden death." He added the observation, "He is lucky to be alive." Luck was certainly a factor, but the bigger factor was the people who came to my aid and the fact they were prepared, and equipped, to help. I silently thank them for that every day.PAFD Paramedics Jesse Wooton, James Penko and Fire Officer John Preston during a reunion with Andrew and his family at Fire Station 5.