Electronic transfers

The heart of a cardiologist has stopped in a restaurant. His daughter’s trainers saved him.

Shortly after 9 p.m. on a Friday in July, Dr. Kevin Volpp arrived at a restaurant in Cincinnati with his 15-year-old daughter Daphne, his squash coach and a few friends. Everyone was tired and hungry for a good meal.

Daphne had just finished her second long and intense match of the day, with another the next morning. The tournament was big enough to have drawn them away from Philadelphia on the 52nd birthday of Marjorie Volpp, Daphne’s mother and Kevin’s wife.

Kevin needed to refuel as he was 16 days away from competing in an Ironman 70.3 event. He had never done anything like it. But when one of her older daughters suggested it, doing something so difficult – and doing it with her – was irresistible. That night he was easily in his best shape since his mid-twenties.

Next to Kevin sat John White, the squash coach at Drexel University, Daphne’s coach boyfriend and himself a squash legend. He had even been nicknamed “The Legend”. Former world No. 1, his game was all about power. For years he held the record for the hardest shot.


White ordered the filet mignon and lobster tail from Maine. It sounded good to Kevin, so he ordered it too.

Chewing on his first bite, Kevin grabbed his water but spilled it.

Then he collapsed on the table and tumbled toward White.

Her heart was not beating.

***

What happened next is a story rich in lessons about life and how to avoid death. It’s about the importance of knowing CPR, why being in good shape always helps, and what is possible when every link in the survival chain holds on.

On Monday, Volpp – an executive at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School whose current research includes various efforts to help people lower their risk of heart attack – will share his story publicly for the first time. at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, the organization’s flagship conference.

In other words, thousands of people around the world who are dedicated to making their hearts beat will hear one of their own talking about the day this summer his heart stopped beating.

“After a year and a half to say we need more wins is really an understatement,” said Dr. David Harris, attending physician in the cardiac unit where Kevin was treated. “Kevin is an absolute victory. He is a patient I will always remember.”

***

Before this fateful dinner, Daphne played two games. Her second went on for so long that their group was late for a dinner reservation.

Her trainer, Gina Stoker, and White arrived last. Daphne had sat down next to her father, but had given way to White.

Because of this, when Volpp collapsed and rolled left, White caught up with him.

Resting Volpp in his chair, White thought his body was stiff.

Stoker immediately called 911. White began to perform CPR. He continued until the police took over.

When paramedics arrived, they connected Volpp to an AED, a portable electronic device that analyzes the heartbeat and, if necessary, can deliver a shock in an attempt to restore a normal rhythm. The machine indicated that a shock was needed. They deployed it, then gave more chest compressions.

After another shock, Volpp’s pulse grew strong enough to take him to the ambulance. Before leaving, her pulse disappeared again, requiring a third shock.

***

Volpp collapsed from cardiac arrest. The cardiac arrest was caused by a heart attack.

En route, paramedics called the hospital with details. A team was waiting in the cardiac catheterization lab. Doctors found one of his arteries to be 99% blocked. They performed a minimally invasive procedure of inflating a balloon to open the narrowed path and inserting a stent to keep it open.

With her body on the mend, the unknown was her brain.

He was gone without a pulse, depriving his body of oxygen, for about 14 minutes. Permanent brain damage can start within minutes.

Once he regained consciousness, Volpp was confused, as is typical.

Yet on Saturday night he figured out everything that was wrong with his heart – and he began to absorb everything that was right to fix it.

– 911 was called right away.

– White and then a police officer continued CPR until paramedics took over.

– Paramedics arrived with an AED within five minutes of calling 911.

– The ambulance left 12 minutes later and arrived at the hospital in six minutes.

– From arrival at the hospital until the opening of the Volpp artery (so called “door to balloon time”) took 1 hour and 8 minutes. The goal is less than 1 hour 30 minutes.

With each successful step, his chances improved.

Yet survival rates for cardiac arrest outside of a hospital nationwide are around 10%.

Harris, the on-site cardiologist, told Volpp the key to his survival was to receive high-quality CPR immediately.

“How do you know I received high quality CPR? Volpp asked.

“Because I’m talking to you 25 hours after the event,” Harris said.

Sunday at 7:40 am Volpp typed the following text to White: “Hey John, I don’t know how to thank you. I think you saved my life. I think I’m fine now because of you.”

***

For a few weeks after his life was saved, Volpp’s chest and ribs were sore.

“But it was kind of a nice reminder of how people have helped me survive,” he said. “So that didn’t really bother me.”

He traded in Ironman training for cardiac rehabilitation. A stress test showed no problems coming from the repaired artery or anywhere else in her heart.

He was allowed to exercise daily. He even joined his triathlon training club.

“I choose to believe the account that all of these things came together perfectly to save my life for a reason,” he said. “There is still a lot for me to do in this world.”

Like helping fewer people die from heart disease.

Volpp is one of two leaders of a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how behavioral economic approaches (think, “nudges”) can increase physical activity in patients at higher risk of disease. cardiac. He also leads a multi-project initiative at Penn Medicine on Reducing Heart Attack Risk by Influencing Patient and Clinician Behavior and has published over 150 papers on related topics.

“It has always been one of my most important efforts,” he said, “but now I’m doubling down.”

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