How Hands-Only CPR Saved My Life
Eric Bell, 50, and his wife Brigette and son Harry
While on a business trip in January, Brigette Bell was eating dinner out when she saw a woman crumple to the floor in the dining room. A table conversation about CPR ensued. “I remember someone saying, ‘No mouth-to-mouth. You just get on their chest and you don’t stop compressions,’” Brigette said. She didn’t know how important that advice would be just one week later, when she and her teenage son would save her husband’s life with Hands-Only™ CPR.
Eric Bell, 50, a commercial realtor and father of four, is in good physical shape with normal blood pressure. Though his cholesterol level tends to run high, he has no family history of heart disease and swims regularly.
However, on January 13, 2014, a heart attack left him unconscious in the foyer of his Elmhurst home. He swam earlier that day and felt some tightness in his chest and slight weakness in his arms that night. “I just thought that I was out of shape,” Eric said.
Just before 10 pm that night, Eric said that he started to feel “different.” He told Brigette he wanted to go to the Hospital. The last thing Eric remembers from that day is walking down the stairs.
“Eric had a blockage in one of the arteries in his heart,” said Dr. Anand Ramanathan, M.D., a cardiologist at Edward Heart Hospital and Midwest Heart-Advocate Medical Group. Dr. Ramanathan was on call the night Eric was rushed to Elmhurst Memorial Hospital.
At some point during the day of the heart attack, the tissue in his artery ruptured. “Eric’s blood formed a clot around some plaque that broke loose, and the clot likely blocked Eric’s artery,” Dr. Ramanathan explained. His heart stopped. Immediately after Eric fell, Brigette and the couple’s son Harry, rolled Eric onto his back. Harry, who had learned CPR in school, began chest compressions. “I was a little freaked out to see him face-down on the ground,” said Harry, 17, a high school junior. “I wasn’t 100 percent sure what to do. Then everything kicked in.”Brigette dialed 9-1-1. “It’s very hard to keep your composure to dial three digits,” she said.
Harry continued compressions for about five minutes, then indicated that he was losing strength. Brigette took over and Harry grabbed the phone. The 9-1-1 dispatcher counted out the compressions.
“I thought we were failing miserably,” Brigette said. She watched her husband turn blue. “I was starting to panic,” she said.“As a mother and a wife, I looked up at my kids and I thought, ‘They cannot lose their father.’ I didn’t want to leave anything on the table. I was going to pump until I had nothing left.”
But Brigette and Harry were not failing. The compressions that they administered kept Eric’s blood moving, delivering life-saving oxygen to his brain. Within minutes, an emergency crew arrived and started Eric’s heart with a defibrillator. They rushed him to Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, where Dr. Ramanathan performed emergency surgery to insert a stent.
“The CPR kept him alive until help got there,” Dr. Ramanathan said. “The hospital intervention was after the fact, frankly. The main reason he’s alive today is because of the Hands-Only™ CPR he received at home.”
“Eric recovered from the incident with no brain or heart muscle damage,” Dr. Ramanathan added.
Â “He’s made a full recovery,” said Lawrence Barr, M.D., a cardiologist at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, who followed up on Eric’s care. “His heart muscle looks normal. I think the moral of the story is: people need to learn CPR. Just plain old CPR.”
Eric’s heart attack has motivated Brigette and Eric to adopt a healthier lifestyle as a family, moving toward a more plant-based diet and keeping their cholesterol in check.
“We all think we’re invincible,” Eric said, who added that diet and exercise alone weren’t enough to prevent his heart attack. “If you need medication to keep your heart stats in check, take it,” he said. “I think you’ve got to do everything.”