Ray Billings didn’t feel himself that morning, but he and his wife still laced up and headed out to Millennium Running’s HPM Insurance Snowflake Shuffle at the Copper Door in Bedford, New Hampshire. It was January 15th and even though he’d run in the cold before, Ray remembers, “My lungs were cold. I didn’t want to run; I didn’t feel up to it, but it saved my life.”
Less than a mile in to the course Ray started to feel very strange. People around him were asking if he was ok. “I didn’t even realize I was already on the ground,” he recalls. He was going into cardiac arrest. By the time his wife Kristine, who was also running, came upon the scene, Ray had turned purple.
Fortunately for Ray, runners have proven themselves time and again, springing into action in an emergency. “With more than 2,000 runners on the course, the first person to act when someone has an emergency is likely going to be another runner,” says John Mortimer, the owner of Millennium Running who is a strong advocate for CPR education and has seen runners save lives in other races as well. In this particular race, several people stopped to help including Dr. Robert Capodilupo, a cardiologist at Catholic Medical Center’s New England Heart & Vascular Institute.
“The most vivid image that comes to mind from that morning,” recalls Dr. Capodilupo, “is how compassionately the local running community quickly reacted to the needs of a fellow runner. The great outcome achieved was not only due to the quick responses of many, but also the team effort displayed that day.”
That team effort represented what the American Heart Association calls the Chain of Survival – five critical steps to saving a life: immediate recognition of a cardiac event and activation of the emergency response system; early CPR with an emphasis on chest compressions; rapid defibrillation; effective advanced life support; integrated post-cardiac arrest care. Where the runners left off, Bedford Fire Department first responders took over, providing Ray with defibrillation and advanced life support both on the scene and on the way to CMC’s Emergency Department.
Firefighter/Paramedic Ben Selleck says his crew, which was staged at the start line, was already halfway to the scene by the time the 9-1-1 calls were relayed to the ambulance. “We got to him very quickly. He was on the sidewalk and CPR was in progress,” Selleck recalls, noting that bystanders were rotating CPR to make sure Ray was getting constant compressions. “Our response time was two minutes; we were on scene for four minutes and at the hospital in another four.”
By the time the ambulance reached the ED doors at CMC, Ray was not only responsive, he was able to give his name, date of birth, and his wife’s phone number. Selleck called Kristine to tell her they’d revived her husband.
At the hospital, Ray was met by a team that included emergency room physician Dr. Jeremy Arnold and cardiologist Dr. Robert Dewey. “He beat the odds,” says Dr. Dewey, who is also on the board of the American Heart Association – New Hampshire and says the chance of surviving a cardiac arrest outside of the hospital setting is very low. “Everything fell into place for him. We see a lot of (cases where CPR saves a life) but I can’t recall one in recent memory that was so successful.”
In Ray’s situation, a lot of thought and planning went into a set up that ultimately made all the difference. “I give so much credit to John Mortimer who insisted there was an ambulance there,” says Bedford Fire Inspector Thatcher Plante. “We talked about worst case scenario, planned for it, and just a few minutes into the run there was a call on the radio because of CPR in progress.”
Ray was already aware of the importance of CPR, even before it saved his own life. “I’ve been meaning to become a certified trainer,” he says, noting the paperwork to do so is sitting on his desk. Words cannot express how much Ray and Kristine, who have five children, appreciate that someone else knew what to do when he went into cardiac arrest. By becoming a certified trainer Ray will ensure others can get the same life saving care.
The bystanders who stopped to help were:
Richard Racine, Manchester Firefighter/AEMT
Carole DiPardo, PA-C, Cardiothoracic Surgical Associates
Melissa LeBel, RN, Cardiothoracic Surgical Associates
Robert Capodilupo, MD, FACC, New England Heart & Vascular Institute
Amanda Arneil, Epping Fire Department AMET
Renee Dickerman, Personal Trainer
The crew responding to the scene was:
Ben Selleck, Bedford Firefighter/Paramedic
Mike Davenport, Bedford Firefighter/Paramedic
Jon Houde, Bedford Firefighter/AEMT
John Mortimer, Millennium Running
Bedford Fire Department
Catholic Medical Center