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The Difference Between Doing Something and Nothing Is Life

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Patrick Carroll, 46, and his fiancée, Liz Bell, had just returned from a family vacation in Montauk. The vacation was an opportunity to spend time with Liz’s children — Garrett, 19, and Alison, 20 — who were going away to college in September.

Upon picking up Mr. Carroll from the train station after one of his first days back at work, Ms. Bell casually asked how his day was. “I don’t feel myself today. I’m kind of out of it,” answered Mr. Carroll, chalking it up as a difficult transition from vacation mode to the rigors of his job as a personal trainer at a gym in Manhattan.

Life Turns on a Dime

Less than two hours later, Mr. Carroll went into sudden cardiac arrest, and while the next 72 hours are a complete blur to him, this critical time span has left an indelible mark on Ms. Bell. “I thought he fainted. That was my first reaction,” explained Ms. Bell. “But as seconds passed, I realized he wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. I had not been in a CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] class since 1985, so my knowledge of CPR was outdated. But I went into survival mode, accessing my past training.”

Ms. Bell instructed her daughter, Alison, to call 911. Alison conveyed instructions from the 911 operator to do 30 chest compressions and one breath, while the Smithtown Fire Department was alerted and dispatched. Ms. Bell continued until the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) arrived and took over.

“I just kept at it and did the best I could. I began chest compressions, not certain if I might injure him, but I had to do something, ”said Ms. Bell.

Sudden cardiac arrest claims hundreds of lives each year. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), less than one third of sudden cardiac arrest victims receive bystander CPR — often because bystanders do nothing to help at the moment of collapse since they fear they might do something wrong or make things worse.

CPR Saves Lives

Few attempts at resuscitation are successful unless CPR and defibrillation are performed within minutes of cardiac arrest. When the heart stops, the absence of oxygenated blood can cause death within eight to 10 minutes. CPR can keep oxygenated blood flowing to the brain and other vital organs until more effective medical treatment can restore a normal heart rhythm. If provided immediately, CPR can improve chances of survival by as much as three times.

Ideally, CPR involves two elements: chest compressions combined with mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing. Last year, the AHA released a scientific statement explaining that chest compressions alone, or hands-only CPR — even performed by an untrained person — can help an adult who suddenly collapses. This can be done by pushing hard and fast in the middle of the victim’s chest without stopping until EMT responders arrive. Moreover, the AHA reported that the chance that a person in cardiac arrest will survive increases when rescuers doing CPR spend more time giving chest compressions.

EMTs brought Mr. Carroll to a nearby hospital, where he was intubated and, upon the physician’s recommendation, prepped for transport to North Shore University Hospital (NSUH). Cardiac catheterization performed at NSUH revealed severe mitral valve insufficiency. After stabilization, surgery repaired Mr. Carroll’s mitral valve.

Beating the Odds

“It’s important to know CPR, because getting help within a few minutes is the key to survival. Without a doubt, it resuscitates people, saving lives,” said Gustave Pogo, MD, the cardiothoracic surgeon at NSUH who operated on Mr. Carroll.

“Liz absolutely saved my life, and it issurreal because I have no knowledge of anything that transpired before I awoke in a hospital bed,” said Mr. Carroll. “Because of my job as a personal trainer, I am certified in CPR, but I obviously could do nothing for myself. If anyone finds themselves in this situation and wonders whether they should attempt to do chest compressions,do it. That’s always going to be better than doing nothing.”

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+Learn CPR! The North Shore-LIJ Department of Public Health Education offers CPR instruction.

To learn more, call (516) 465-2500.

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