A life, saved

By Caitlin Kelly


Jeff is the man wearing the blue checked shirt and vest.

It happened on a suburban September Saturday afternoon.

Our co-ed softball team, who’ve been playing together for 16 years, was in the middle of a game when Jeff, a 61-year-old teacher, ran to first base — and collapsed.

“Don’t be so dramatic!” scoffed Paul, the first-base coach.

He wasn’t.

He was having a heart attack, in the middle of a ball field.

Luckily, one of our team-mates, a physician, was there and immediately knew — and knew how — to start chest compressions.

Police came, and EMTs and a paramedic and took Jeff to a local hospital, where he was placed in a medically induced coma.

He’s fine now.

He’s back to teaching.

He’s back to playing softball.

I wasn’t there that day, but it terrified everyone who witnessed it, helplessly, fearful that our friend would die in front of them.

He could have.

It happens.

So, wanting to be sure we’re prepared should it ever happen again, 28 of us paid $35 apiece to take a two-hour Saturday morning class last weekend to learn how we, too, might be able to save a life if needed.


(Here’s a link to a video about how to do it.)

It was deeply sobering — you have barely four to six minutes to get someone’s heart pumping again before their brain is damaged.

There’s no time to waste!

You can’t panic.

You can’t want someone else to fix it.

You have to do it, and do it quickly and do it with strength and speed — 120 compressions per minute. You’re mimicking a heartbeat for someone who doesn’t have one.

We each practiced on plastic dummies, both child and adult-sized.

We also learned how to do the Heimlich maneuver, on adults, children, infants and (worst case) even ourselves if we’re ever alone and choking. (Lean hard against a chair back and push down on your diaphragm.)

We also learned how to use and apply the two pads of a defibrillator and how to do so safely.

It was a lot to absorb, physically, intellectually and emotionally.

“No matter what happens, you tried your best,” the instructor cautioned.

Not everyone will survive even the best rescue attempt — unlike a recent local save who needed 25 minutes of CPR to return, literally, from the dead.

After the class, there was a lovely, moving ceremony in the town’s volunteer ambulance garage, with the town mayor and the nine people: EMTs, two police officers and a paramedic whose quick action and excellent skills saved our friend’s life.


Jeff gave a quick, graceful speech and served us a lemon cake at lunch to celebrate his second life.

If you’ve never learned CPR, I’d urge you to consider doing so.

It’s not as complicated as you’d think and there’s nothing worse than feeling helpless in a life-threatening situation.

(story told with Jeff’s permission!)

19 thoughts on “A life, saved

  1. Yeah, you’re right. I’ve been wanting to take one of these life-saving classes for years. The Red Cross up the road offers them. I’ll sign up. About ten months ago I put up a blog post on how to survive a lightning storm. A group of children and a few adults had been celebrating a birthday in the middle of the Parc Monceau one Sunday. All of a sudden a thunder and lightning storm appeared … several of the kids were hit by lightning. It happens so suddenly.

    1. I remember that story — it was terrifying!

      The technique is not difficult but you have to be somewhat strong (it’s tiring!) and ideally have someone standing by (or several) to hand off to, so you can take turns doing it but NOT stopping. We timed doing it for only two minutes (and I lift weights!) and it was tiring…

      We asked when you should start doing compressions — the teacher said, if someone hasn’t taken a breath in 10 seconds, jump in and start. Better to do it without it being needed than wait and have then die or suffer brain injury.

      Good for you for being willing to learn.

  2. They actually offered CPR classes at work two months ago, and I signed up. You’re right, it was a lot to absorb. And while all the information is there in my head, I don’t ever want to be in the position to have to use what I know. And if I do, I hope I don’t forget.
    The sad thing is, because at work we’re most likely to come across adults needing CPR, we didn’t learn how to do it on children. I hope I never have to perform it on a child either.

    1. I’m surprised they didn’t teach you how to do it on kids as well. Not very different, essentially. But probably somewhat gentler; I’d check with your instructor.

      I agree, I never want to have to use it. But better to know how, perhaps.

      1. Well, unless you work at the preschool at work (and I don’t), your contact with kids is limited. That’s why we only learn adults. That, and we can’t spend all day in a CPR class, so we take out the parts about resuscitating kids.

      2. Well, that’s probably the main reason we didn’t learn the method for children (which, like you said, probably more gentle). We were on the company dime, so if something could be shaved out to ensure we got back to the office on time, it was.

  3. i think that this is great that you did this and well worth the money. i take this course each year in order to work with young children and i feel i am prepared to do my best to help anyone of any age now.

    1. Very smart of you to do it. I was shocked to hear that people die all the time because bystanders either don’t know what to do — or won’t do anything because they are scared of being sued if the person dies or is injured from it.

  4. I have the deepest respect for EMT’s!! As a public health nurse, I renew my CPR yearly and always dread the occasion that I would have to use those skills, yet this responding to a code is the routine reality of EMTs.

    1. Me, too! Ours, in these small suburban NYC towns, are volunteers, which is even more amazing to me. I wish I had the courage to do it, but I don’t. One woman had done something like 26 rescues in a year.

  5. While I no longer practice, I still maintain my ACLS and ATLS certification for just these reasons. (A recent overseas flight involved one of those dreaded “is there a doctor on board?” announcements that I was able to respond to.)

    As you mentioned so much more eloquently, the investment in time and money is worth the ability to render aid in time-sensitive situations that may mean the difference between life and death.

    Really glad to hear this event had a happy ending.

    1. Good for you! It was very very sobering to realize how much we rely on someone being present with the skills and willingness to save us in the event of…

      I know the team-mates who witnessed it were traumatized by it, and the MD who saved Jeff doesn’t even like discussing it now, for all our gratitude.

  6. Such a sad story that a heart attack happened. It is so heart warming that a class was taken to ensure many more lives are saved in case another incident was to happen. Thank you for sharing such a hard story

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