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The Right Place at the Right Time: Devices Help to Save Two Salisbury Men
According to the American Red Cross, more than 300,000 Americans die of sudden cardiac arrest every year. Up to 50,000 of these deaths could have been prevented if an automated external defibrillator (AED) had been available for use at the time of the emergency.
Two Salisbury men were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time – in public areas with available AEDs and people who were trained to use the devices, which provide an electrical shock to restore an effective heartbeat to a heart in life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia. Thanks to these devices, both Preston Tawes and Stephen Slocum not only survived heart attacks but are thriving and healthy today thanks to quick intervention and AED technology.
For 80-year-old Preston Tawes of Salisbury, what began a simple celebration among friends to welcome 2012 suddenly — and without warning — became a race against the clock to save his life. “I remember leaving the car and walking into the meeting,” said Tawes, a lifelong resident of the Eastern Shore who exercises regularly. “But that’s where my memory ends.”
What the retired purchasing agent doesn’t recall, about 70 of his fellow Happy Timers club members who were meeting on January 4 at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center will never forget. Tawes had just entered the room with his wife, Ruth, and was about to sign them in when he suffered a heart attack, falling face first onto the registration table. “I just kind of collapsed myself,” added Ruth Tawes, who has been a close friend of her husband’s for over 70 years, but married to him for just three years following the loss of their spouses. “I stood over him and I knew he was gone.”
Tawes’ left anterior descending artery (LAD) had blocked. Because the LAD provides much of the blood flow for the left ventricle which returns oxygen-rich blood to the body, heart attacks associated with this vessel are commonly known as the “widow maker” for their high mortality rates.
But here’s where the story takes an incredible turn. Happy Timers Director Sharon Engster saw Tawes fall, and without hesitation called out to Assistant Director Karen McInturff to grab one of the two AEDs permanently located at the Civic Center.
While McInturff raced from the room, retired cardiac nurse Carol Smith, a Happy Timers member, immediately started CPR. When McInturff returned moments later, she followed the audio commands issued by the AED, attached the pads to Tawes’ chest and twice shocked him while Smith continued CPR between the applications. McInturff, like other key Civic Center staff, had been previously trained in the use of the AED. “I truly believe he’s a blessed man and a miracle who had this horrible event happen at the right place, the right time, with the right technology and the right people at his side who refused to give up the fight,” said McInturff.
Tawes was taken by ambulance to Peninsula Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Department where clinicians stabilized him, and then handed him over to the care of the Guerrieri Heart & Vascular Institute’s Cath Lab team. A cardiac stent was placed to open up the LAD blockage. “The care at PRMC was excellent, always outstanding,” added Tawes. He spent two days in the ICU, three more in a cardiac step down unit, and was home by January 9.
“The main reason Mr. Tawes is alive today is because of the timely and proper use of the AED, along with his prompt transportation by EMS to the closest hospital, in this case, PRMC, where cardiac intervention was performed. It is this coordination of care and meeting door-to-balloon times (from the Emergency Department to the Cath Lab) of less than 90 minutes that is best for the patient,” added cardiologist Hari Heda, MD. “This also clearly demonstrates the life-saving value and importance of businesses having an AED available and training staff on how to use it.”
Less than a month after the incident, Tawes was back at a Happy Timers meeting to see Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt and members of the County Council provide certificates of recognition to Engster, McInturff and Smith for their actions that saved his life. “They and everyone at PRMC gave us back our husband and our father,” added Ruth Tawes. “I can’t thank them enough.”
And for Preston Tawes, he’s actively participating in a medically monitored cardiac rehab exercise program at Peninsula Regional, and he understands how fortunate he is. “I’ve been given a second chance. I’m not sure what that is or why, but I guarantee you I’ll work it out as it comes.”
A former college football player, Stephen Slocum, 50, liked to push himself. It worked in business, allowing him to become the owner of a successful Nationwide Insurance office in Salisbury. And it worked in the gym; he was a regular at the Mid-Shore YMCA, keeping himself as fit as when he played football in his college days. Cardiac stress tests were no challenge for him.
But one day at the gym, something went wrong. “I noticed I didn’t have the same ‘punch’ I normally do,” Slocum said. “I got dizzy and thought I better get myself checked out.”
Slocum went to Peninsula Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Department, where tests all seemed normal — except for the EKG. Just 45 minutes later, he already had a stent in place to fix an obstructed right coronary artery.
“I couldn’t believe how quick it was,” he said. And he felt better almost immediately, so good, in fact that he was soon back at the Y for his workout routine. Two weeks after the first incident, Slocum was exercising in the weight room when he was felled by a major heart attack due to a blood clot.
An off-duty Detective Sergeant from the Wicomico Sheriff’s Office, Michael Dolch, happened to be at the Y that day and helped revive Slocum.
“I just had walked in to work out, and some people told me there was a man having a seizure,” Dolch said. “I went to see if I could help, and when I went to take his vital signs, he stopped breathing.”
Dolch had been trained for CPR, but never had used it — now, his practice paid off. He and another bystander, an off-duty officer from Eastern Correctional Institution, kept Slocum’s heart pumping and airways circulating.
“When I went into the room and saw who was working on him, I knew these were two people who had been highly trained and I felt really good about his chances,” said Nora Mears, a longtime aquatics instructor at the YMCA. Mears added her experience to boost Slocum’s chances — not only is she a lifeguard, but she also teaches lifeguard classes at the Y that include CPR and AED usage.
By another stroke of luck, Slocum’s good friend, Dr. Jeffrey H. Etherton of Delmarva Heart had donated a defibrillator to the Mid-Shore YMCA 10 years ago, to use in situations such as this one. Mears helped shock Slocum’s heart back into rhythm —it took three shocks.
Dr. Etherton, a YMCA board member, said he and his wife, Michele, decided to donate the AED after a fellow board member and philanthropist Herb Fincher was felled by sudden cardiac death at the gym.
“A wonderful guy had died, and it struck me that something could have been done about it,” Etherton said. “About a month later, my wife and I donated the defibrillator.” Since then, the YMCA’s defibrillator has been used twice — Mears had been helping the first time, too. Both times, the AED helped save lives.
The Ethertons’ donation came well ahead of a growing national trend to install AEDs in public areas, from airports to malls. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute says that 95 percent of people who have sudden cardiac arrest die from it if they are not rapidly treated with an AED.
It made the difference for Stephen Slocum. “His color looked really good when the ambulance came,” Mears said. The paramedics helped keep up the CPR on Slocum, and transported him to Peninsula Regional’s Emergency Department, where a “Code Ice” was initiated — a process that uses therapeutic hypothermia to reduce damage to the body and brain after a severe heart attack begins to cut off vital blood flow.
The process worked. On his 50th birthday, November 27, Slocum was released from the hospital, just weeks after a heart attack that many could not have survived. Today, he is back to work, and back to working out, too — although now it’s at Peninsula Regional’s Cardiac Rehab facility, where his heart is monitored while he exercises.
Even though Slocum’s heart attack happened at the gym, he is still a strong believer in exercise. “I don’t think I would have been able to recover as quickly — maybe even wouldn’t have survived — if I wasn’t so fit,” he said. It’s likely that family history played a role in his heart disease. Slocum says that many people in his family, including his father, had cardiac problems. Exercise is a vital way to ensure that his heart recovers and stays healthy.
Dr. Etherton was deeply moved by the fact that the AED he donated ended up saving the life of a dear friend. “God works in mysterious ways. And the one most important thing I have taken from this — it truly does help when you are philanthropic Giving can really make a difference in people’s lives.”
Everything came together to allow Slocum to make it through the cardiac crisis — a defibrillator donated by a friend; a YMCA employee who knew how to use it; quick-thinking, well-trained officers on their day off; dedicated paramedics; and a rapid, high-tech response at Peninsula Regional.
Slocum is grateful to all who helped him that day. “I am a man of faith, and I believe that it was by God’s grace that all the proper people were lined up to keep me alive,” Slocum says.