A Balcony View: Life-saving lessons

"Stay with me, Corky," I screamed. "You hang on! Look at me! Stay here!"

Moments earlier, I had been having a conversation with Corky about my love of motorcycles. He had just finished telling me about his dislike of them.

I was just about to change the subject when Corky coughed twice and stiffened up in the seat next to me. As Corky began struggling for air, I reached for his hand. I tried to remain as calm as I could to reassure him that whatever was happening, he was going to be OK.

In the front seat my two co-workers were assuming different roles. Matt, the driver of the van, was pulling off the freeway as quickly as possible while Lisa was in the process of calling 911 and searching for someplace suitable to find assistance.

Whether by dumb luck or divine intervention, we happened upon an upscale restaurant close to the freeway off-ramp. We quickly pulled up to the valet and threw all the doors open.

"Please help us. Our friend is having a heart attack."

From out of nowhere, a doctor and anesthesiologist came to our aid. We pulled Corky out of the car and laid him down at the entrance of the restaurant. I continued to cradle his head in my hand, not wanting Corky to feel any more pain from the sidewalk than he was already feeling.

I could hear the faint sound of sirens approaching as the both doctors worked in unison to save this stranger's life. One of the doctors began chest compressions as the other shoved his fingers in Corky's mouth, doing everything he could to keep the airway open.

"Is there a defibrillator?" one of the doctors asked.

But the restaurant did not have one. Another woman, a nurse, checked Corky's wrist. He had a faint pulse.

Moments later the paramedics arrived, and suddenly there was a more prepared team working in unison to save Corky. For several minutes more I kept my hand under his head until one of the paramedics got a towel.

I stepped out of the way and watched as the paramedics stabilized Corky so he could be transported to a nearby hospital.

As we were driving to the hospital, I began to wonder whether there were any laws that require restaurants to own a defibrillator. I figured if I was in Corky's spot, I would want a law like that in place.

I discovered that California does not require restaurants or other public businesses (with the exception of health clubs) to own a defibrillator. The thought that I could be dining someplace in Glendale, suffer a heart attack and die outraged me. And for a couple of days, I considered how to write an argument stressing the importance of defibrillators in restaurants.

Then I put myself back in Corky's spot and took a look at reshaping the event by imposing self-accountability instead of forced government regulations.

Regardless of whether a defibrillator was available, Corky was overweight, did not appear to be in good physical shape and had a history of heart disease. These are all known factors that could have easily contributed to Corky's heart attack. And if they were controlled, they may have prevented it.

With that in mind, are more accessible defibrillators the answer? Or is a little preventive care a more rational approach to the problem?

According the American Heart Assn., there are seven simple steps anyone can take to improve their health. Their plan is called "The Simple 7," and it can be found at http://mylifecheck.heart.org.

The site claims that eating better, getting active, losing weight, managing blood pressure and cholesterol, quitting smoking and lowering blood sugar will make a big difference. Admittedly, that's nothing I didn't know and probably nothing you don't know either. It's just something a lot of us like to ignore. I did. Until last Wednesday, when I got to look someone straight in the eye while I screamed, "Don't die!"

And so with Corky in mind, I started to put those seven steps into my life. My immediate plan is to get up a little earlier so I can squeeze some exercise into my busy life, eat more sensibly and lose some weight. My long-term plan is to never be in a position where I'm wishing there was a defibrillator close by.

I look at it this way: I played a small part in a team effort that helped save Corky's life. I can either let that experience fade away or learn something from it. Who knows? If I do the latter, perhaps the real end of the story will be that Corky saved my life.

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is senior manager of communications for DIRECTV and a copywriting professor at Pasadena Art Center College of Design. Gary may be reached at garyrhuerta@gmail.com.

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