Be well. Practice big medicine.

Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #49 Bake birthday cakes

Cynthia Herbert, New York City teacher, reunites with her rescuers at the FDNY’s 18th Annual Second Chance Brunch

A nugget of Big Medicine every day. #49 Bake birthday cakes

On average, when someone suffers sudden cardiac arrest, irreparable brain damage occurs within four to six minutes.

On average, in a big city, the time between recognition of a life-threatening event and the arrival of a trained and equipped emergency medical responder is more than eight minutes. Out here in the country, if someone shows up within eight minutes we’d have to laminate the date on the calendar as a Miraculous Moment.

Do the math.

I guess that until you save someone’s life with an automatic external defibrillator [AED], it is hard to grasp the incredibly positive impact these devices can have. I know first-hand what it is like to use an AED to save another person’s life.

A 50-year-old woman had collapsed at the office. Her colleagues had recently been certified in CPR as part of a workplace safety initiative. They immediately called 911 and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

I was part of the first response team that arrived at the woman’s side a few minutes later. We were equipped with an AED. The machine functioned perfectly and after the second shock was delivered, we could feel the patient’s pulse.

By the time she was loaded into the ambulance, the woman was breathing on her own. After several days in the hospital, she went home to her family.

A little more than a year later, I received a card from the woman and her family thanking me for giving her a “second chance at life.” The card contained a photograph of her entire family gathered together for a special birthday celebration on the date we had used the AED to save her life.

I will always remember that card because it described all the family celebrations she was able to attend and all the people who had been touched because her life had been saved.

My only regret is that our EMS service hadn’t thought of hosting that birthday celebration. We really should have baked a birthday cake for each member of that still-rather-too-unnecessarily-exclusive club. We should have taken a note from the FDNY.

FDNY EMS has been hosting a Second Chance Brunch for 18 years. Every year, this special event reunites people who have survived cardiac arrest with the people who helped save their lives.

Among the survivors honored this year was sixth grade teacher Cynthia Herbert, who works at the Doctor Rose B. English School in Brooklyn. She was teaching class on Sept. 15, 2011, when she suddenly collapsed. Her students, knowing she had a heart condition, ran out of the classroom and notified other teachers and staff.

The Assistant Principal called 911 as physical education teacher, Alina Salner-Washington, identified that the woman was in cardiac arrest, began CPR and used the defibrillator, saying, “The training I have just kicked in.”

Minutes later, EMTs Raul Perez and Ricardo Otero arrived alongside Paramedics Andre Pierre-Louis and Howard Henry. The EMS members shocked her with the defibrillator and inserted a breathing tube before beginning hypothermia treatment, which involves administrating intravenous cooling fluids to preserve brain function during cardiac arrest.

When we got her back, it was joyful,” Paramedic Henry said.

Many other FDNY members arrived and continued to help with care as she was transported to Brookdale Hospital. She went back to teaching just four months later.

Can you imagine how much safer it would be if every office building, arena, bank branch, place of worship, school and shopping mall had automatic external defibrillators readily available? I believe AEDs ought to be right below the smoke detector and right next to the fire extinguisher on as many walls as possible. If you’re building/renovating a home or condo, include an AED in the plans.

Save lives. And then bake birthday cakes.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


PostScript: And while I haven’t asked her, I know she can do it. If ever you need a birthday cake that incorporates an AED, Ambulance or Paramedic in its design, you need to talk with the Canadian Country Cake Artist Ronna Mogelon. Check out her cake creations on Facebook – including the amazing poutine cake.

NB: Big Medicine is my nod of respect to a First Nations expression that, roughly translated, means the right people working together at the right time will be Big Medicine. I’ve been saying ‘Be well. Practice big medicine’ for as long as I can remember. It is my own very personal version of ‘Sawu Bona’, the Zulu greeting which means ‘I see you’… I see all of you, I see your good works, I see the difference you are making in the world.

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