By Deb Crager
Special to The Record
If your heart suddenly stopped working, could you count on anyone around you to start CPR? How about the barista who makes your morning latte, or the person passing you on the jogging path? Even on rural Whidbey, you may be in better hands than you think.
On Labor Day weekend two years ago, Cliff Hagglund wasn’t thinking about where help would come from either, but he found out. After dinner with friends, he remembers sitting in a chair and leaning back against the wall when his heart stopped. Alex Campion, a friend and off-duty firefighter and EMT went into action, starting cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), as 911 was called and others arrived to help.
Hagglund was transported to Whidbey General Hospital by paramedics while he received medication to help stabilize his condition. He needed more CPR as his heart stopped and started again, and he was flown to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham for heart surgery.
Across Whidbey Island, there are approximately 100 cardiac arrests reported to ICOM-911 each year. Highly trained to help in medical emergencies, ICOM dispatchers are certified through the National Academy of Emergency Medical Dispatchers, and once they know your location, they can send help. They will guide you through the steps of CPR for loved ones, friends or strangers.
Callers are coached to open the airway to assess breathing and then provide quality compressions to help push the blood through the body and keep the brain oxygenated. According to one dispatcher, people on Whidbey have always been willing to help each other during an emergency.
In addition to the more than 100 volunteer firefighters who live on the island and respond locally when 911 is called, thousands of other residents and visitors have taken part in the Hands on Whidbey program, an island-wide education program started by Whidbey General Hospital’s EMS department.
Whidbey General Hospital paramedic Robert May works with fire departments and other island agencies to reach and encourage everyone to participate in a 10-minute, hands-only CPR program.
“One of the biggest factors that determines if a person survives cardiac arrest is whether someone recognizes the emergency, calls 911, and pushes hard and fast in the center of the chest,” May said. To date, the program has trained more than 2,000 people in this simplified version of CPR, the majority on Central Whidbey, where the program is most widely taught. May also teaches children in school programs and adults at various work sites.
Blood and oxygen flow continues with CPR, but a defibrillator is needed to shock the heart out of an ineffective rhythm. A federal grant helped place more than 50 automatic external defibrillators in schools and at other public places on the island. Paramedics from Whidbey General Hospital respond from the closest station and continue care with advanced airway support and medications. They carry the Medtronic Lifepack 15, a state-of-the-art cardiac monitor that measures blood pressures, measures oxygen levels during treatment, and evaluates 12-lead EKGs, similar to the EKGs done in the hospital emergency department. Patients having life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias or who have suffered cardiac arrest but are resuscitated may be taken directly to cardiac units in Everett or Mount Vernon after consulting with a physician.
Hagglund, 50, is thriving and has reclaimed his life after a harrowing five days in the hospital and months of rehabilitation. He has a defibrillator and pacemaker in his chest. In hindsight, he believes his heart was probably already misfiring; and he was often short of breath. It was only a matter of time, he says, before something worse happened. He knows that everyone around him played an important role in his survival, especially friends who recognized the situation and were quick to respond.
“When I woke up in the hospital after surgery, the doctor told me that I had received CPR for a very long time, and it was good that I was in a community where everyone knew me — but just as important, knew CPR,” he said. “They really worked to save my life.”
Where to learn CPR
South Whidbey Fire and Rescue: To register, go to www.southwhidbeyfire.org under Public Information, Community Classes. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Held the last Saturday of each month, full-course CPR $22.50, $22.50 for first aid.
Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue: 1164 Race Road, Coupeville, last Saturday each month, full-course CPR $20, $20 for first aid. Visit www.cwfr.org. Call to register, 360-678-3602.
Whidbey General Hospital EMS: Hands-only CPR, by request: 360-678-7620.