Heart attack at the gym: Trained patrons and Lifepak save man’s life

an Abbotsford man who is lucky to be alive after he suffered a lethal arrhythmia at the Abbotsford Recreation Centre.

The Lifepak defibrillator that can be found at Abbotsford's city-owned gyms.

The Lifepak defibrillator that can be found at Abbotsford's city-owned gyms.

If you’re going to be hit by a sudden heart attack, the best scenario would be in a building with a paramedic and other health care professionals in attendance, and a defibrillator handy.

Such was the case for an Abbotsford man who is lucky to be alive after he suffered a lethal arrhythmia on Sunday at about 11:45 a.m. at the Abbotsford Recreation Centre.

The man, who is middle-aged and described as having an average build, was on the treadmill at the gym. He finished his workout and went to join his wife, who was running on the track, when he suddenly collapsed.

“We were fortunate to have medical professionals in the building at the time,” said facility manager Jennifer Thornton.

Off-duty paramedic Jim Earle was doing his workout when he heard the commotion.

Auxiliary firefighter Brian Wiens was also in the gym, and they assessed the patient and began CPR, trading off the tiring job every two minutes.

There were also two emergency room nurses at a birthday party downstairs who arrived on scene, and also a Corrections officer with CPR training.

There is also a Lifepak defibrillator at ARC, brought in approximately a year ago, and that is what ultimately saved his life. They are designed to shock the heart, restoring it to a healthy rhythm.

“It took one shot, and it brought him back,” said Thornton.

On-duty paramedic Pete Smith said his job was made easy. By the time his ambulance arrived on scene, the patient was conscious and talking.

But Smith said the situation could have been far more dire if not for the Lifepak.

The patient was in lethal arrhythmia, and “defibrillation is the only way to correct it.”

The victim was disoriented, and had a bloody nose – indicating he was unconscious even as he fell to the floor.

He was taken to Abbotsford Regional Hospital, and remained for a period of observation, but Smith said thanks to the work of those on scene he will likely be able to resume a normal life.

Smith said the story makes a great case for having defibrillators in public buildings, businesses and places people congregate.

The Lifepak begins “talking” to the person opening it as soon it is turned on.

“Call for help now,” then “Remove all clothing from the patient’s chest,” and so on. Once two patches are connected to the torso, as illustrated in a picture, the device will analyze when to shock the patient, first warning the operator to “stand clear.”

“They are intended for use by the layperson, who has never seen a cardiac arrest before,” said Smith.

“Turn it on, and it’ll walk you through.”

The man was still in hospital on Monday, and his name is not released to respect his privacy.

Thornton said a scary incident for ARC personnel became an uplifting one.

“The fact he survived is pretty amazing,” she said. “All the staff are pleased to hear he’s going to make it.”