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Quick Action by Responders Helped Heart Attack Victim Survive

Man went into cardiac arrest while at Amici Italian Grill in February.

With a precious few moments remaining, the perfect timing and teamwork of others contributed significantly to the act of saving one man’s life.

While eating dinner at , . If not for the quick action of an off-duty nurse and emergency responders the unidentified patron may not have been released from the John Dempsey Hospital with “full neurological function” on Feb. 28.

“It’s good to hear,” Officer Mark Vess, one of the many who responded to the 911 medical call, said recently. "I’ve been to several [cardiac arrests] and it never worked out like this."

The likelihood of someone surviving an attack that renders them unconscious and without breath is unusual. To revive a patient, it is necessary to perform CPR immediately and administer AED shocks within minutes, according to Lt. Paramedic Neil Pendergrast, of the University of Connecticut Health Center Fire Department.

The swiftness with which emergency personnel were able to administer CPR and the AED became significant factors in saving the man's life, Pendergrast said.

“I’ve been a cop for 12 years and never have had this happen…. When you see on television that they just shock them and they’re okay, no. No. It’s very, very rare,” Sgt. Kevin Fleming, who also responded to the call, said recently.

After a man passed out around 8:12 p.m. on Feb. 22 while dining, a restaurant manager sought costumers with medical experience. Restaurant patron Anna Illescas volunteered and found the man slumped on his table. Illescas, a registered nurse in the West Hartford Public School system, gave the man cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

"My training just kicked in even though I was shaking inside," Illescas wrote in an email to Patch.

Illescas did not know the man, who was not breathing and did not have a pulse, police said.

“She knew what she was doing. It definitely helped that gentleman out a lot,” Vess said.

Nearby patrons stopped eating and some customers got up to hold the door for emergency responders, Fleming said.

As Illescas continued CPR, Fleming hooked the man up to an automated external defibrillator (AED). Recognizing a "shockable" rhythm, Fleming delivered an electric shock to jolt the man's heart back to a natural rhythm, according to Peter Canning, an EMS coordinator at John Dempsey Hospital. The officers took over CPR. Within minutes, an American Medical Response ambulance arrived, driven by EMT Ed Austin. He and paramedic Dave Carlson, of Southington, were dispatched there from their station at Avon Public Works.

While the patient regained pulse and blood pressure by then, he was still unconscious, Canning said. As the man gasped for air, Pendergrast, UConn fire paramedic John Martinez, Austin and Carlson used a big-valve mask” to help him breathe in a controlled manner.

En route to John Dempsey Hospital, Pendergrast and Carlson continued to work on the patient. They sent the hospital an EKG of the man’s heart as emergency room staff and the cardiac catheterization lab prepared for his arrival.

"All those things happening the way they did, textbook, saved this person's life," Carlson said. "With all our hard work and day-to-day calls, that makes it all worthwhile."

John Dempsey doctors kept him “sedated” and “cooled” for 24 hours, performing therapeutic hypothermia so the brain could regain oxygen, Canning said. The patient was given an internal defibrillator and he “walked out of the hospital with full neurological function,” Canning said.

Canning said that in most cardiac arrests, people collapse without anyone noticing.

“The people who have the best chance of survival are the generally healthy citizens who suffer sudden ventricular fibrillation in public, who get bystander CPR, early defibrillation, and a rapid arrival of ambulance and paramedics,” Canning said. “That’s who the system is set up to save and it proved its strength in this case.”

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