It had been 18 years since Lisa Wiles took a CPR class, but she still knew enough to save her husband’s life.
On April 9, 2020, Lisa and her husband Dan Wiles were about to have dinner. Lisa heard Dan exclaim and then start making strange noises. At first, she thought he was choking on dinner, but she realized those noises meant that could not be the case. She called 911 right away. The operator heard the noises Dan was making and told Lisa to immediately start CPR.
“I had taken CPR 18 years earlier,” Lisa said. “But I remembered enough that the operator could walk me through it. I did CPR for four minutes before help arrived. With my adrenaline rushing in the situation, sometimes the operator even had to tell me to slow down.”
First responders from the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department, the Howlett Hill Fire Department, and the Marcellus Ambulance Volunteer Emergency Services (MAVES) arrived within minutes. They were able to take over CPR and shock Dan’s heart back into rhythm, although it took a few tries. Dan was down for 13 minutes, but was speaking again by the time he was loaded into the ambulance to go to the hospital.
One of the firefighters on the scene told Lisa she did exactly the right things. Later in the evening, a sheriff’s deputy stopped by to pick up something his partner had left behind.
“He came to the door and he was very hesitant,” Lisa said. “I told him Dan was at the hospital recovering and he was shocked. He didn’t expect Dan to be alive.”
“Everything had to line up perfectly for the chain of survival,” Dan said. “Lisa was right behind me to see me go down and start CPR. If she had been in the shower, I’d be dead.” Dan said he’s been told he is a miracle.
Dan said he “checked out” during the ordeal and doesn’t remember anything between walking to dinner and being put in the ambulance. Lisa, however, recalls a surreal scene, from the equipment the first responders used, to the debris strewn around her living room afterwards.
The early days of the COVID crisis added to the difficult nature of the event. Lisa said the first responders had to pick up everything they touched in case there was any COVID contamination. She was not allowed to ride in the ambulance with Dan. She was able to visit him in the hospital later, but only by herself and only for 10 minutes. It was another five days before she was able to see him.
Dan did not have a heart attack. He suffered sudden cardiac arrest. Doctors still aren’t sure exactly why his heart stopped. He has a history of Afib, or atrial fibrillation, and a family history of electrophysiology issues. At the time of his sudden cardiac arrest, he was wearing a loop recorder so doctors could track his heart rhythm.
“The recording showed my heart went from Afib straight to ventricular tachycardia. My doctor told me that was ‘incompatible with life,’” said Dan. After his sudden cardiac arrest, Dan had a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted in his chest. Thankfully, he has not needed his defibrillator.
Now, Lisa and Dan are sharing their story to encourage others to get trained in CPR. It was a difficult experience for Lisa, but she wanted to turn it into something good. She said she wants everyone to be prepared so they can help save a life even in a stressful situation.
Lisa and Dan have arranged CPR classes and fundraisers in the Rochester area, where Lisa is from, and in Marcellus, with MAVES. In just a few months, they have trained about 50 people in CPR. One of the classes was even taught by the responder who performed CPR on Dan.
“My niece was at one of the CPR classes,” Lisa said. “She was nervous at first, but I watched her become more confident doing compressions.” Lisa wants others to gain the confidence to be able to save someone in an emergency, especially a loved one. About 70% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen at home, so if you are called on to save a life in a CPR emergency, it will most likely be the life of someone you love.
“All I could do at the time was keep going, but I knew what I knew because I took that class 18 years ago,” Lisa said. “I want people not to freeze. I remember the saying ‘You don’t rise to the occasion; you fall to the level of your training.’ That’s what happened to me. Everyone says they should take a CPR class, but I hope because they know our story, they finally will.”
Learn more about CPR or find a class near you at www.heart.org/cpr.