Graduation Day

As a dive professional with 20 years experience as an instructor, I know how important it is to keep rescue skills up to date in case there is trouble on the water. But a few years ago, the skills I learned in the DAN Basic Life Support for Dive Professionals course (BLS Pro) were put to the test in a place and a manner I never could have imagined.

Our entire family was in Atlanta for my wife’s Ph.D. commencement ceremonies. As we walked the halls of Georgia State University, I caught a young man helping a lady to the ground. I immediately heard murmurs of “What’s wrong?” and “seizure” from bystanders. I kneeled down next to the woman. Her eyes were rolled back, her breathing was shallow, and her pulse was faint. A puddle of urine was next to me. I asked the man if he knew the victim, to which he replied, “Yes, that’s my mom!” I asked him her name, what she had been doing before the collapse and whether she was taking any medications. My mind was racing through the information. Her symptoms were not indicative of either a seizure or heat stroke. Her breathing was labored and her pulse erratic. Suspecting this was a heart attack, I ordered bystanders to find out if there were any AEDs in the building.

From the chaos around me, a woman came forward, identified herself as a nurse and took a position on the other side of the victim. We briefly talked through the symptoms, noting that the victim’s breathing was slowing down, her pulse was diminishing, and she was now slightly cyanotic. (Cyanosis is the bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes resulting from inadequate tissue oxygenation.)

We knew what we had to do: CPR. The nurse performed compressions as I performed mouth-to-mouth ventilations. After only two cycles, the victim began breathing again. We got her pulse back, and her color returned, albeit briefly. We continued CPR until EMS arrived on scene approximately 10 minutes after her collapse. I explained the symptoms to the EMT, who handed me a bag-valve mask. I remained to assist with ventilation and got a crash course in real-life defibrillation.

It was over just as quickly as it began. I gave my name to a police officer and went to the bathroom to clean up. Most of the crowd was gone by the time I returned, but I took a moment to counsel a grief-stricken bystander and then found my family. The entire day, and the next, I thought about the scenario. Did I do everything right? What could I have done better? And mostly — did she survive?

During the Sunday morning commencement ceremony, my wife spotted the son of the victim in the procession. She ran up to him and asked about his mother, explaining that her husband was one of the rescuers who had performed CPR. Expressing immense gratitude for the help, he told my wife that his mother had been diagnosed with a massive heart attack and underwent an emergency angioplasty. She was still in a coma, but all were thankful that she was alive!

I had just completed the BLS Pro course at the time of the incident, and I know that it gave me the courage and ability to assist in this situation. This incident also inspired me to take the DAN Instructor Trainer Workshop. Now, when I teach BLS, I have a valuable real-world experience to relate to my students.

Training makes a difference in the world when the two good samaritans for a heart attack victim are a nurse and a scuba instructor. Keep up your training; you never know when you might need it.

© Alert Diver — Q4 Fall 2009