The last time I did CPR

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

It wasn’t the last time I did CPR. It was the second to the last time. I really wish it could have been the last.

His wife stepped into the church and asked if we could help her husband. It was the time of year when the Methodist Church hosts the annual Lenten Luncheon. I was standing about 20 feet inside the back door. At that time, I was safety director for the city of Wilmington. I had invited the chief and assistant chief of the fire department to be my lunch guests.

The ashen-colored, old gentleman, stepped through the door just behind his wife. He held onto the doorjamb for a fraction of a second, then he fell face-first onto the floor. I immediately checked him for responsiveness.

He was completely unconscious. I checked for breathing. There was none. I established his airway by tilting his head back and lifting his chin. Nothing. I gave him two breaths and checked him for a pulse. There was none. Quickly, I pulled my emergency radio off my belt and radioed the fire chief.

His first response was, “We’ll be there in a minute.” I told him, “No. This isn’t about lunch. I just started CPR. Step up your response. Bring the squad and a defibrillator.” His reply was immediate. “We’re on it.” Almost immediately, I heard sirens. That was a great sound. Help was on the way.

The assistant chief rushed in with his first-in emergency bag. I stopped doing mouth-to-mouth and started using the bag-valve-mask unit. The three of us continued CPR. In a matter of minutes, the life squad arrived. They brought in the portable defibrillator. Once we hooked him up, the monitor confirmed what we suspected — he was in full cardiac arrest. The first shock did nothing. The second shock from the defibrillator brought back a weak, irregular pulse.

Using the laryngoscope, I performed an endotracheal intubation to secure his airway. Within a few minutes, we had IV access, loaded him into the squad and headed to the hospital. He was stabilized and transferred to the intensive care unit. Unfortunately, he only lived a short time longer before dying from his heart disease.

Over 40 years earlier, I worked my first day as a respiratory therapist. It was also the first time I worked on a cardiac arrest victim. Since then, I have performed CPR, as part of an emergency response team, somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 times.

Many of the patients were old. Some were quite young. Some were newborn. Only a few of those patients survived to discharge. A precious few were able to resume their lives. Those were the people who brought true meaning to our job. But, without CPR, absolutely none of those patients would have survived.

February is American Heart Month. This annual observance is sponsored by the American Heart Association. The mission of the AHA is to “build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.”

The heart association has recognized for years that the first step in survival of cardiac arrest is CPR, followed immediately by advanced cardiac life support, including defibrillation, delivery of medications and intensive cardiac care.

But, CPR cannot wait. For a cardiac arrest victim to survive, a bystander must start and continue CPR until EMS arrives. It is vital that citizens know how to perform CPR. It is a life-saving act. If you have never taken a CPR class, contact your local hospital, your local life squad or the AHA to arrange for a class.

I had never performed CPR outside of my profession until that day at the church. That might have been the only time I performed CPR outside of my job, but it wasn’t. I performed CPR one more time as a private citizen. It was six years after I retired. It was the day my granddaughter was born.

Everything that day progressed perfectly. Jessi was doing very well. The obstetrician told Jessi that the next contraction was going to bring the baby. I was ready to leave the room with the rest of the family and friends, but Jessi asked me to say. Surprisingly, she wanted her Daddy to be there for the delivery.

As Jessi pushed during the next contraction, I noticed that the baby’s heartbeat slowed down significantly. That’s not normal. It’s a bad thing. I knew the doctor and nurse very well. We had worked together before I retired. We all exchanged nervous glances. Things got worse. None of us said anything that might scare Jessi or Matt. I don’t believe they knew anything was wrong, but something was very wrong.

The nurse asked the doctor if she should call Cardiopulmonary. That is the department I had headed until my retirement. They are the ones who do CPR. “Yes, get them up here.”

The doctor and I exchanged another anxious glance. In the distance, I could hear the overhead paging system, “Cardiopulmonary – Mother/Baby Care. Cardiopulmonary – Mother/Baby Care.” As this happened, Taryn was delivered. She was limp and lifeless.

The umbilical cord had been wrapped around her neck four times. There had been no time for a C-section. My thought was, “Not on my watch.” I left my post at the head of Jessi’s bed and went directly to the doctor. The hand-off was like a football play. Immediately, I had my granddaughter in my arms. I took her to the infant-warmer, placed her on her back and immediately started resuscitation.

In an instant, I went from being Pappy to being a respiratory therapist again. All of us did our jobs. Within minutes, her heartbeat was strong and steady. Then Taryn started to cry. The nurse met the Cardiopulmonary staff at the door and let them know everything was now fine. We stimulated Taryn some more, dried her off and I quickly gave her to Jessi and Matt. I still wasn’t sure if they knew all that had just happened.

That was the last time I performed CPR. This is American Heart Month. If you don’t know CPR, take a class.

You might be able to save a very, very important life.

Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist