ST. JOHNSBURY — It was around 7 p.m. on Friday, July 12, when D.J. Rousseau began to feel lightheaded.
“I was having a normal day,” said Rousseau. “We were putting stuff away from a weeklong family vacation [in Maine]. So really nothing out of the ordinary. Then I went and made myself a cup of coffee and sat down on the couch. That’s when everything changed.”
Without warning the 47-year-old professional firefighter collapsed in his living room.
His heart had stopped. His life hung in the balance.
Luckily his wife Deborah, a former emergency medical technician, was nearby and instantly began to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while she called 911. Her quick acting kept him alive until the ambulance arrived.
Today the father of three is back on his feet, with an internal defibrillator implanted in his chest.
“My husband is young and healthy. He is a firefighter. But if I didn’t know CPR he might be dead,” Deborah said.
NEED FOR EDUCATION
Following his close call, Rousseau is pushing for increased CPR education. He wants more people to learn the skill, which is easy to do and proven to save lives.
Each year more than 350,000 Americans experience sudden cardiac arrest, and the survival rate outside of hospital settings is between 2 and 15 percent, according to the American Heart Association.
Prompt CPR could double or triple the survival rate, particularly in rural areas like the Northeast Kingdom or New Hampshire’s North Country.
“Traditionally, in rural areas, out-of-hospital cardiac arrest equals death — unless you have someone trained in CPR that’s there,” said Dr. Ryan Sexton, the emergency room director at Northeast Vermont Regional Hospital.
CPR education is simple. Some organizations offer CPR certification (CALEX Ambulance in St. Johnsbury lists classes at www.calexambulance.org/cpr—first-aid) and there are plenty online courses and informal tutorials.
There are also free smartphone apps available such as Pulse Point Respond and Staying Alive (which help locate nearby automated external defibrillators).
THE FIRST LINK
For patients in cardiac arrest, CPR is the first — and perhaps most important — link in the life-saving chain: It keeps the patient alive until the ambulance arrives.
Local emergency responders can tell you from experience, there’s not enough CPR knowledge out there. It’s a problem Rousseau has seen first-hand as a lieutenant with the Burlington Fire Department.
“In my almost 30 years of EMS work, I think I’ve been to a small handful of calls where people were doing CPR when we arrived,” said Rousseau. “I find it’s rare.”
Rousseau’s wife performed CPR for six minute until CALEX Ambulance arrived. With two of her children looking on, she single-handedly kept her husband’s blood pumping, before EMT’s Alissa Fontaine and Debbie St. George walked through her front door. They delivered electric shocks twice to restore heart activity.
From there he was transported to NVRH and then airlifted to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. He was discharged after five days.
“That first night at Dartmouth, while watching the door every time a nurse came out, my mother asked to learn CPR,” his wife Deborah said. “She lives in a very rural area and my father has had a heart attack, and she wanted to learn right then and there.”
Added Rousseau, “Even if it’s just chest compressions and doing them properly, it can make a big difference if you live or die.”
For those wanting to get a jump start on CPR education, the American Heart Association suggests the general public and bystanders call 911 and then use hands-only CPR (without mouth-to-mouth breaths).
Hands-only CPR is done with uninterrupted chest compressions of 100 to 120 a minute until paramedics arrive.
For those with training, if you check and there is no breathing or pulse within 10 seconds, then begin chest compressions (30 chest compressions followed by two rescue breaths).