CPR-trained pair saves runner

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Longtime buddies Tom Devlin and Phil Oaks had run half-marathons together, so a relatively short three-mile jaunt on a scenic, wooded trail along the Columbia River should've been a piece of cake.

Surprisingly, though, Devlin started feeling uncomfortable less than a mile into their run on the Heritage Trail in Camas, Washington, about 20 miles east of Portland, Oregon. He thought he was being slowed by exercise-induced asthma, so he took a quick puff from his inhaler.

Then, he collapsed in the gravel.

Devlin, 58 at the time, actually went into cardiac arrest. His heart was no longer beating. He was slumped over, chin on his chest, unresponsive.

But fortunately, Oaks, who is CPR-trained, knew what to do: Immediately call 911 and start chest compressions right away.

More good fortune arrived as another CPR-trained runner happened by a few minutes later.

Christiana Adams, a certified unit assistant at Salem Health in Oregon had just recently finished a new CPR training program, Resuscitation Quality Improvement, which is specifically for healthcare professionals.

"As we approached, I recall thinking, 'Am I ready for this?'" Adams said.

Clearly, she was.

"She stepped right in, and I stepped out. We communicated. We were an immediate team," Oaks said. "I never saw her slow down."

Adams even replayed the song "Stayin' Alive" in her head to make sure she was doing compressions at the right rate. "Almost immediately, I could see Tom's awful color fade away and return to a normal flesh tone," she said.

The CPR-trained pair was a double-blessing for Devlin.

More than 350,000 Americans have a cardiac arrest outside a hospital each year, and only 12 percent survive. Their odds of survival can double or triple when bystanders jump in to help.

Thanks to Oaks and Adams, Devlin was one of those survivors.

After about a half hour of CPR, he started coughing and talking a little. He was waking up, enough to feel the harsh pain of chest pushes. Medics finally arrived -- they'd had trouble finding him on the trail -- and hooked him up to an automated external defibrillator for lifesaving shocks.

It was touch and go, but finally Devlin was wide awake and screaming "No!"

Since that "No," Devlin has enjoyed what he calls his "third lease on life." He received a pacemaker the next day, and he gradually returned to activities like running, biking, swimming and even skydiving.

Although Devlin's dad died at 40 of heart disease and Devlin had undergone bypass surgery eight years before, he thought the chest pains that had been creeping up on him over the past year were asthma or acid reflux. In fact, he said his cardiologist told him that those pains didn't seem to be heart-related. While Devlin didn't know he was at risk, he later learned that being healthy helped save him.

"My doctor said that I am alive because I was fit," he said. "I believe my heart was able to compensate and that's why I'm still alive."

"You think of CPR, and you think of non-fit people with health warning issues. This guy could be a professional athlete as much as he trains," said Oaks, who happened to have CPR training scheduled for the next day. Clearly, he was ready.

"I pumped on my dummy for 28 minutes the other day," he told the instructor. "I'm ready for my manikin today."

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