Pictured above: Lucas and Robert Weme
By Gina Mayfield
On a Minnesota summer day, as the Weme family played in the backyard, 47-year-old Robert Weme stepped outside to join his wife, children and grandchildren. As he sat on the deck, his 20-year-old son, Lucas, noticed something about his dad seemed off.
“I went over and asked him what was going on, and he said he had passed out in the kitchen. At that point, I was getting kind of worried,” Lucas says. “Then he passed out on the deck and started to seize.”
Lucas’ mom and sisters ran over and made sure the grandkids were okay as they called 911. “My dad didn’t have a pulse, so I just started CPR on him. I did about 30 compressions, then he started to come back to,” Lucas says.
Robert answered questions and seemed awake and alert, and just as everyone thought he was out of the woods, everything changed. “Shortly after the first responder got there, my dad ended up going back into seizure fit. We couldn’t find a pulse,” Lucas says. After another round of 30 compressions, then another, Robert regained consciousness then went back out again. “I did more compressions and then they slapped the AED on him and shocked him,” Lucas says. “He was in V-tach.”
V-tach is short for ventricular tachycardia, a heart rhythm disorder caused by abnormal electrical signals in the lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart causing a very rapid heart rate. It can last for just a few seconds, or much longer, and cause cardiac arrest.
EMTs got an IV established and headed straight for St. Mary’s hospital in Duluth. Lucas and his mom were never far behind and reached the ER shortly after the ambulance. “One of the drivers actually came out and talked to us. She said my dad was pretty stable throughout the whole transport, he was talking, alert and oriented,” Lucas says. “Then they led us back into the ER.”
What the ambulance driver may not have known was that his otherwise healthy, 47-year-old patient biked or lifted weights for about an hour every day, including the day before this incident – and was a paramedic himself. And Lucas was a pre-med student hoping to follow his dad’s footsteps into emergency medicine. He had been a licensed EMT for two years, from the time he was 18, and currently serves with Carlton Fire and Ambulance. That’s where he learned CPR.
When Lucas and his mother got back into the ER, Robert had something he wanted to say to his son. “He said that he loved me and was very proud of what I did. He said he wouldn’t be here without me doing what I did,” Lucas says.
Robert was right. The survival rate for an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is around 11 percent.
A few days later after being diagnosed with idiopathic cardiomyopathy, Robert left the hospital with a defibrillator and a family with its sense of humor still firmly intact.
“Even though I work on an ambulance too, my dad was actually my first patient to code. I guess he wanted to have the glory of being my first one,” Lucas says with a smile.
Join a Nation of Heartsavers today at cpr.heart.org/heartsaver. #CPRwithHeart
Adela Alvarez and Nan Martin
By Marissa Alanis
Nan Martin hadn’t planned on attending the Zumba class that her friend and instructor, Adela Alvarez, taught at Hope Community Church in Rogers, a small town in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area.
But wintry weather on Jan. 9, 2014 led Martin’s personal trainer to cancel their appointment. Undeterred by the weather, Martin didn’t want to stay at home. She headed to the Zumba class instead, which was the first time she attended Alvarez’s Thursday night class. Martin usually went to her class on Monday nights.
Alvarez, who was 49, taught at least five Zumba classes each week in addition to working as a high school Spanish teacher. Halfway through the class, Alvarez decided to give the students a water break.
“She is leaning against the wall, taking a sip of water and she almost looked right through me and she just said, ‘I don’t feel well,” Martin recalled. “She just collapsed.”
Martin, who had renewed her AHA CPR training a week before, immediately checked Alvarez’s pulse while another student ran to call 911. Martin detected a faint pulse and gave Alvarez two rescue breaths.
Martin checked her pulse again. There was no pulse. The dispatcher, who was on the phone by this time, told Martin to start compressions and remained on the line to guide her.
“She would say ‘Speed it up’ or ‘You’re going too slow’,” Martin recalled. “She helped me keep my pace up, which was great.”
As Martin did CPR, she sang the song Stayin’ Alive, which has the right beat for performing chest compressions. When performing CPR, rescuers should push on the chest at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute.
“It’s so weird, but I wasn’t scared,” she said. “I was amazed at the adrenaline – the whole adrenaline rush. I knew what I had to do and it’s so different when you’re doing CPR on a manikin versus when you’re doing CPR on someone you love.”
Martin performed CPR for about 25 minutes before emergency help arrived at the church, which is located in a rural area. First responders from about three to four nearby communities arrived. The paramedics shocked Alvarez’s heart five times before rushing her to the hospital.
In the first week of hospitalization, Alvarez had kidney failure and liver failure. She started to become weak. Doctors had to use an ECMO machine to help her heart. But Alvarez experienced complications and lost circulation in her right leg. Doctors had to amputate her leg above the knee.
It was about 45 days after her cardiac arrest that Alvarez started to come out of her coma.
“When they take me out of the medicines for the coma, they were able to do a CAT scan and the doctors came out and literally say to my husband, ‘It’s a miracle. Her brain has zero damage. It was as if nothing happened,” she said.
Alvarez spent about three months in the hospital. She attributes her faith in God, prayers from family and friends and gratitude with helping her survive and recover.
“I know that God was there all the time with me,” she said. “Even though it wasn’t easy because in the recovery, I remember feeling a lot of physical pain. …I was so grateful to be alive. That was my thing – be grateful. I’m alive. I say ‘It’s ok. I don’t have a leg. I can’t live without a heart. It’s okay if I live without a leg.’
Pictured above: Adela leaving the hospital.
Later in 2014, Alvarez received the Zumba Fitness Inspiration Award at the Zumba convention in Orlando. A nurse who was also a Zumba instructor was inspired by Alvarez’s story at the event that she helped lead efforts to teach CPR to Zumba instructors. CPR is now taught to instructors at the annual convention.
Alvarez is now an AHA CPR instructor who teaches BLS and runs a CPR training business. She teaches once a month at the high school where she previously worked as a Spanish teacher.
“I love it,” she said. “I share my story in every class. After I share my story, it changes the point of view of the people in the class.”
Pictured above: Adela, center, is now a CPR training instructor.
Martin has followed Alvarez’s footsteps and now is a Zumba instructor. Martin said Alvarez is never far from her thoughts.
“I really miss dancing with her,” she said. “Number one – she is an amazing woman. Even before all of this happened, Adela is just one of those shining lights who walks into the room and you can feel it come off of her. Her classes were amazing.”
Martin said she urges the public to take a CPR training class because it can save the life of someone you know or love.
“I just can’t emphasize enough – take it,” she said. “A lot of people say,’ I’ll never need that. I’ll never use that.’ Never say never because you know never know when a 49-year-old fit woman is going to drop in front of you.”
This National CPR and AED Awareness Week, learn more about how you could save the life of a loved one or someone you know by learning CPR today.
Azarria Simmons and Torri’ell Norwood
By Gina Mayfield
Best friends since seventh grade, Torrie Norwood, 16, and Azarria Simmons, 17, had just spent a typical Saturday night out when they decided to head home. As they drove back to their hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida, another car plowed into them. After the impact, Torrie opened her eyes and realized the car had been pushed into a tree right smack in the middle of someone’s front yard.
Then the screaming started. “It’s gonna blow!” yelled the gathering crowd as the pickup truck went up in smoke.
Torrie’s door wouldn’t open, but her window had been knocked out during the crash, so she had an obvious escape route.
“Everyone ran down the street because we all thought the car was going to blow up,” Torrie says. “But then I turned around, and I didn’t see Azarria running with us. I had to run back to the car to see if she was still in there — and she was.”
Things didn’t look good.
“She was unresponsive in the back seat,” says Torrie. “I had to drag her out because she wasn’t moving or breathing. There was glass and blood everywhere.”
That’s when the adrenaline rush kicked in.
“I don’t know how I did it, how I opened that door. It was crushed. I just became strong for a second,” she says.
That strength came in handy. In a moment of clarity amidst the chaos, Torrie instructed a bystander to call 911 and got to work.
“My focus was only on one thing. I started CPR,” Torrie says.
After 30 chest compressions and two rescue breaths, Azarria began to show signs of life. Just then, the paramedics rolled up ready to rush Azarria to the nearest hospital.
“I just kept asking them if she was going to be okay,” remembers Torrie.
Fortunately for both girls, the Athletic Lifestyle Management Academy at their Lakewood High School offers a Medical Skills class taught by longtime American Heart Association CPR Instructor Erika Miller. She teaches Basic Life Support, along with Heartsaver First Aid and Bloodborne Pathogens After CPR. Torrie had earned her certification just the day before this accident happened.
“You never know when an emergency will occur,” Erika says. “In all of my years of teaching, I have never had an experience quite like this one. I never imagined a student would finish the course, take her written and skills tests and in 24 hours have to perform CPR on her best friend.”
All of the Pinellas County Schools use the AHA training tools, including 16 public high schools (three with medical magnet student programs), and offer training for bus drivers, coaches and staff.
“I tell my students that it is one thing to know life-saving skills, but it’s another thing to be comfortable helping in an emergency,” Erika said. “At the end of the day, I want my students to not only know what to do, but to be willing and able to help, if needed.”
Sounds a lot like Torrie. After the ambulance took off with lights and sirens, Torrie spent hours trying to reconnect with Azarria, who was finally found over FaceTime sporting a fresh set of stitches above her eyebrow.
“If Torrie hadn’t performed CPR, it would have been a different story, because the medics got there too late,” Azarria says. “What Torrie did didn’t surprise me. She would have done that for anyone. That’s just the type of person she is.”
Still sore from the accident, the girls returned to school on Monday. By that point, word of the accident had started to make its way through the halls and Torrie had gone from being the “quiet girl nobody knew” to a hometown hero, a title she’s not quite comfortable with yet. In a display of great humility, Torrie hadn’t told a soul about the accident, not even Erika who eventually heard the news and playfully confronted Torrie.
“I can’t believe you came and sat in my class and didn’t even tell me anything! I’m just so glad you’re okay,” Erika said. “I come to school every day and I wonder if my students are actually listening to what I’m saying. I’m just glad you heard me and used what you learned in the real world.”
That’s an important takeaway. “I feel like CPR training should be a requirement in schools,” Torrie says. “A lot of stuff we learn, we don’t use anymore once we graduate. But CPR is something we can use for the rest of our lives.”
This week is National CPR and AED Awareness Week, spotlighting how lives can be saved if more Americans know CPR and how to use an AED. Learn more about how you could save the life of a loved one by learning CPR today.