Exactly two years ago my heart stopped.
August 21, 2016, at Pine Lake Park, the co-op bungalow colony in Cortlandt Manor NY where we spend our summer weekends, was Day Two of color war weekend. We had the 50 yard and 100-yard dash races and then it was time for the 1.5-mile race. I’ve never been a good runner, but I wanted to participate.
I had just celebrated my 50th birthday, but I was as fit as I’d ever been. I was down 100 pounds from what I weighed in 2011 and I worked out five days a week. That included a weekend routine of a super hard bike ride every Saturday and Sunday around the reservoir in Cortlandt Manor followed by playing in a basketball game for two to three hours. That week, though, I was busy and didn’t make it to the gym. I went to shul and offered a D’var Torah instead of going on the bike ride, and the basketball game was rained out.
The 1.5 run was hilly, and I found it difficult. After the first loop I thought about quitting, but my wife encouraged me, and I finished the second. I was winded, more than I thought I should be. Suddenly, it felt like a switch in my body went off. I felt terribly ill. My father in law remembers me telling him I wasn’t feeling well right before I fell. My heart stopped beating and went into an unstable arrhythmia. The medical term is Ventricular Fibrillation or V-Fib. It was not a heart attack but rather a sudden cardiac arrest, which kills the vast majority of people who are stricken outside of the hospital.
More than 90 percent of V-Fib victims die or suffer serious brain or heart damage. On that August day two years ago, I was about to be another one of those statistics.
I remember the paramedic saying, “These people saved your life. You are the luckiest person in the world today.
Fortunately, about seven years earlier, Tommy, a member of our bungalow colony, convinced the board to buy an AED (Automated External Defibrillator). And every other year training was provided on the AED and on performing CPR.
I had fallen 20 yards from where the community stored the AED, and the 2016 training had occurred just the week before. As my wife and three young kids watched, my friends and neighbors sprung to action. Moshe started CPR and gave it up to Adam who then gave it up to Jacob. Liz ran and got the AED and strapped it on. It indicated that I needed to be shocked, so they shocked me. Wendy performed mouth to mouth. My eyes opened, I sat up and was trying to describe a dream I had been having. They didn’t want to hear it. They kept asking me questions to assess whether there was any brain damage. There wasn’t. I was in terrible pain on my ribs from the CPR compressions. They told me the ambulance was on the way.
All of a sudden, I noticed I wasn’t wearing a shirt and there was the AED next to me saying my heart beat was normal and there was no need to shock me. I remember thinking, “they thought something happened to my heart? Crazy…I just fainted.” I had no idea what had happened.
The ambulance arrived and as ambulance attendants carried me into the ambulance, I remember the paramedic saying, “These people saved your life. You are the luckiest person in the world today. Go buy a ton of lottery tickets. We never see a result like this.” Again, I was sure he misunderstood what happened. He didn’t misunderstand; I did.
I was the luckiest person in the world. If I had gone to the gym earlier that week, gone on the bike ride or played basketball, I’d likely be dead. I fell in the right place, at the right time and was surrounded by the right people.
At the local hospital they made sure I was stable and then they sent me to the NYU Langone Medical Center where I was under the care of Dr. Arthur Schwartzbard, a brilliant doctor, scientist and researcher.
The next day Dr. Aaron Slater put stents in my LAD and Circumflex arteries which were 70 percent blocked and another one in a small branch called the OM3 that was 99 percent blocked. It was over, and I was sent home.
I am alive today because my community had the foresight to buy an AED and make sure that people were trained in CPR.
Odds are that you may well have the opportunity to save a life if you know CPR, learn how to use an AED and make sure your gyms, synagogues, schools, workplaces and community centers all have one. AEDs are reasonably priced. Some sell for around $1000, and New York State offers a $500 tax credit if you buy one.
Each year now I train on CPR and on using an AED, and I invite my friends to join. I keep an AED in my home and in my car just in case. It’s not for me. My arteries are open, I see my doctors regularly, take the meds I’m supposed to and get an annual stress test. However, if the opportunity comes, I want to pay my great fortune forward and save a life.
Jeff Feig is an investor living in New York City.