Engineering project manager James R. McLane was headed out the door after completing an hourlong circuit workout at Highpoint Sports and Wellness in July 2011.
But he suddenly began to feel nauseated and dizzy. Soon he was holding onto the desk at the entrance of the gym for support.
“I just knew I was going to pass out,” the 65-year-old recalled of that day almost three years ago.
And he did – he lost consciousness and tumbled to the floor.
His workout buddy Chad Wilder started CPR, while fitness instructor Yael Dougherty grabbed an automated external difibrillator and hooked it up to him.
The feedback from the AED said there was no heartbeat or pulse, so she activated it to shock his heart. That, combined with Wilder’s application of CPR, almost certainly saved McLane’s life.
EMTs soon arrived in time to rush him downtown to Presbyterian Hospital, where a cardiac surgeon performed a successful triple bypass. McLane spent more than a week in the hospital recovering.
What McLane experienced is called sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), which is not the same as a heart attack. In most cases, a SCA happens when the heart goes into a spasm – also known as ventricular fibrillation. Without being shocked back into action, the heart continues to beat abnormally.
This leads to death in almost all cases, because blood stops flowing to the brain and vital organs. If the heartbeat is not immediately restored with an electrical shock, death can happen in approximately 10 minutes. Statistics show that every year in the United States, 400,000 people experience an SCA, 9,000 of them under the age of 18, and about 5 percent survive.
One of the details McLane recalls when he woke up from having passed out: with the AED monitors still attached to his chest, he took a look around himself in what must have been a foggy state, and observed the other gym members and staff: “People were just standing around,” he recalled. “They didn’t know what to do.”
That’s because, according KOAT medical contributor, Albuquerque Journal columnist and longtime cardiologist Barry Ramo – who would later become McLane’s doctor – about 30 percent of people do not react to a person in McLane’s situation.
Specifically, some don’t understand the cycle of breaths and compressions that go along with providing CPR, Ramo said. Others are uncomfortable putting their hands and mouths on a person they do not know, and still others do not know what an AED is or where to find it.
“People are afraid to do it because they were afraid to do it wrong,” said Ramo of stepping in and performing CPR on a stranger.
That soon will change, the doctor hopes, through an educational program he hopes all New Mexicans will take advantage of called Project Heart Start.
In it, facilitators will teach the up-to-date technique of providing CPR, as well as the correct use of an AED. These topics will be covered June 7 during the free training. Training sessions will take place simultaneously in 18 New Mexico locations. The Albuquerque location is a gym at the University of New Mexico; in Rio Rancho it will be held at Sabana Grande Recreation Center.
The training will include a 12-minute video about how to perform hands-only CPR. New guidelines for performing CPR do not require mouth-to-mouth contact, and instead focus on compressing the chest so that the lungs fill and send air throughout the body, an automatic process for someone not in cardiac distress.
At the Albuquerque training, there will be 350 mannequins on which people can practice with facilitators who will be on hand for guidance. Ramo will be present as well.
Ramo, who describes Project Heart Start as the most important thing he’s doing right now, said the program he’s now promoting statewide is an expansion of training done at Intel and at Central New Mexico Community College.
Ramo said his goal for this project, which began four years ago, is to make sure as many people as possible learn CPR so they will be capable of saving the life of someone like McLane.
Meanwhile, McLane has been doing well health-wise since his SCA three years ago. He said his wife, five children and four grandchildren are grateful for his recovery. Every six months, he goes to see Ramo at the New Mexico Heart Institute. “Dr. Ramo says I’m a miracle,” he said, “and so, I’m very blessed.”
Since his SCA, he reports, he has upped his workouts to between four and six every week. “And they are very hard workouts,” he said, “guaranteed.”