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 I was out of shape,” Eric said.
Just before 10 p.m. that night, Eric said 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 Anand Ramanathan, MD, 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 said. 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-first 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 911. “It’s very hard to keep your composure to dial three digits,” she said.
Harry continued compressions for about five minutes, then indicated he was losing strength. Brigette took over and Harry grabbed the phone. The 911 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 thought, ‘I don’t want to leave anything on the table. I’m going to pump until I have nothing left.’”
But Brigette and Harry were not failing. The compressions 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.
Without the Hands-Only CPR he received, Eric would likely have died, according to Dr. Ramanathan.
“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 CPR he received at home.”
Eric recovered from the incident with no brain or heart muscle damage, Dr. Ramanathan added.
“He’s made a full recovery,” said Lawrence Barr, MD, a cardiologist at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital who has 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.”
To learn CPR at Elmhurst Memorial, visit https://searchemhc.edward.org/classes. To find out if you’re at risk for heart disease, take EMH’s free five-minute test that could save your life at www.emhc.org/HealthAware. For more information about EMH activities during Heart Month in February, visit www.emhc.org/services/cardiology/community-ed.