Brian Gwyn’s heart stopped at 6 a.m. His fiancée, Laura Tobler, knew something was wrong when he sat straight up in their bed. She asked Gwyn if he was OK, and he said no.
“That was the last thing out of his mouth,” Tobler said. “He went straight back, and he was flatlined.”
In the next few frantic moments, Tobler, Gwyn and medical responders lived through an experience that many sitting in the crowd at Spokane’s second annual Survivor Celebration on Thursday night know all too well.
Sudden cardiac arrest strikes almost 300,000 people nationwide every year, according to the American Heart Association. Nearly nine in 10 die before reaching the hospital. Thursday’s event at the Lincoln Center, organized by Spokane Heart Rescue, recognized the unlikely stories of survival and raised awareness of the CPR techniques that kept those like Gwyn alive.
Imitation Hawaiian leis identified the survivors. Trained experts and family members sat with them, practitioners of the CPR that brought them back.
Tobler, a professional caregiver, began CPR immediately on Gwyn until paramedics arrived. Dave Baird of the Spokane Valley Fire Department was one of the responders. The three met on Thursday for the first time since that morning.
“Thank you,” Gwyn said quietly from his wheelchair, wiping tears from his eyes.
“You look a little better than the last time I saw you,” Baird said. He told Tobler her reaction made all the difference because his emergency team had to travel farther than the closest team, which was occupied.
“Well, I said, ‘Jesus, this is you and I right now,’ and I just dove in,” Tobler said.
A few tables away, Benny Daniel sat chatting with Bud Lochridge, the fire engine mechanic who rushed to Daniel’s side after he collapsed in a Spokane hardware store in July 2011. Daniel and his wife, Shirley, have met all the other responders who kept him alive that day. Lochridge was last on their list.
Daniel’s memory of his episode is limited to the dull pain in his chest after waking up in the hospital, but he felt compelled to thank those who came to his rescue.
“I just know that the Lord put the right people in the right place at the right time,” Shirley Daniel told Lochridge.
Ryan Schaefer, a registered nurse with Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center who helped coordinate Thursday’s event, said the purpose was to increase the number of patients who survive cardiac arrest outside of the hospital. Spokane Heart Rescue continues to push training of compression-only CPR in Spokane County. Training is simpler than using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and continuous chest-pumping keeps the blood moving.
Organizers hope the celebration will continue to build the support network for cardiac arrest survivors in the Spokane area. The event also showed the importance of CPR training and the unique circumstances that saved each life, Schaefer said.
“Surviving requires all the stars to align,” he said.