YMCA staff save member’s life after heart attack
Don loves cycling and staying in top form during the winter was one of the reasons he joined the Haselwood Family YMCA. For six months, he came to the Y twice a week to lift weights and ride 10 or more miles on the stationary bikes. Every time he exercised, he felt a dull pain in his chest and in his arms, he was short of breath, and his stomach was upset. He didn’t think much of it and attributed it to acid reflux. Then one day, that dull ache changed his life forever.
“The day I had my heart attack, I was kind of in a hurry, so I came down and did a quick five miles,” says Don. “After I rode, I got up to go clean the machine and I just went black. That’s the last thing I remember.”
Don went into cardiac arrest and collapsed on the floor next to the bike. Downstairs, Senior Aquatics Director Wes Wuco and Aquatics Lead Pearl Freckleton were having a meeting when they got word of the emergency.
“I got up and went right upstairs while Pearl went and got a code bag,” Wes remembers. “And as I’m walking up there, I see [Don] laying on the ground. He didn’t seem to be moving, so I got right into what you need to do – looking for breathing, checking for a pulse.”
Mike, a Y member and firefighter with Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue, was working out nearby and hurried over to help. Don’s pulse had stopped, so Mike started chest compressions while Wes and Pearl attached the AED, a device that guides CPR with spoken commands and provides defibrillation.
“I ended up having to cut off Don’t shirt around Mike’s hands while he was doing compressions, attached the AED, and cleared everyone away to administer the shock,” says Wes. “After the shock, I got back to doing compressions, and Pearl was there and had her mask.”
As Wes delivered compressions to restart Don’s heart, Pearl gave rescue breaths to keep oxygen flowing, while Mike checked for a pulse.
“Altogether of us actually doing CPR, it was about four-and-a-half minutes,” Pearl recalls. “I distinctly remember when we attached the AED and it was telling us to be clear, I looked at my hands and they weren’t shaking. And then we shocked him and we didn’t have to do any more rescue breaths after that because the defibrillation actually worked.”
Pearl, Wes, and Mike moved Don into a safe position. Emergency medical services arrived moments later and transported Don to a nearby hospital, where he started to regain consciousness.
“[The doctors and nurses] told me what happened and I had this big pain right here,” Don says, rubbing the left side of his chest beneath his collar bone. “When I finally met Wes, I saw how big his arms were and how buff he is and I said, ‘Yeah, now I know why my chest hurts.’”
Don had triple bypass surgery and returned home to rest after a week in the hospital. Two weeks later, he came down to the Haselwood Y to meet the staff who saved his life.
“To go from on the ground needing CPR to standing there shaking my hand…that was really cool,” says Wes. “He came in and right off the bat got to doing some of his therapy by walking a couple of laps around the track.”
Since his heart attack, Don has wasted no time in getting back on the bike. In February, he rode 120 miles to raise money for the Y’s Annual Campaign as part of the Rally for the Y challenge. He now encourages people to get checked for heart disease and to learn CPR.
For their part in responding to Don’s heart attack, Wes and Pearl received Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s Citizen Life-Saving Award.
“I feel like it’s not about me, it’s about the people that work here and what they do,” says Don. “It could’ve happened to anybody, but if you’re in a place like the YMCA, you’re in good hands.”