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Chain of Survival System saved American Heart Association president after cardiac arrest

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

Following a cardiac arrest, the American Heart Association's president was saved by the Chain of Survival System.
Following a cardiac arrest, the American Heart Association's president was saved by the Chain of Survival System.

American Heart Association president John Warner went into cardiac arrest during the heart attack he suffered last month, his heart stopping for several minutes until an impromptu team of rescuers brought him back to life.

Warner's heart attack made news, but American Heart Association News was the first outlet to report on the specifics of his incident. He made his private experience public in an effort to raise awareness of the "chain of survival" that saved him, which included locals who knew how to perform CPR, an AED at his hotel, and the quick transport by EMTs to a hospital staff who hurried him into a catheterization lab to clear the clogged artery that had caused the problem in the first place.

"I wouldn't have been alive to celebrate Christmas with my family if any of those things hadn't happened exactly as they did," said Warner, a 52-year-old interventional cardiologist and the CEO of UT Southwestern Hospitals in Dallas.

Warner is halfway through a one-year tenure as the volunteer president of the AHA, the oldest and largest organization in the country dedicated to fighting the two leading causes of death worldwide: heart disease and stroke. His cardiac incident happened while he was in Anaheim, California, for Scientific Sessions, the organization's biggest annual gathering of cardiovascular specialists.

At 6:40 a.m. Warner took a quick nap on his bed on November 13 after starting off a CycleNation spin class in his hotel room. Then his wife, Lisa, heard a wheezing noise while applying cosmetics. His eyes were wide open when she raced over to him, leaving him unable to speak.

She cried out for her children, Jacob, 21, and Lauren, 17, and made a helpline call to the hotel manager. They witnessed John breathe his final breath and lose consciousness.

Jacob and Lisa yelled for a doctor as they hurried down the hall. When Lauren was left by herself with her father, she thought back to a three-year-old AHA Hands-Only CPR instruction video she had seen at a National Charity League meeting. She recalled realizing that the beat of the song "Stayin' Alive" was the appropriate speed for those compressions while she practiced administering them to a manikin that day.

Dr. Tia Raymond, a pediatric cardiologist at Medical City Children's Hospital in Dallas, was awakened by Jacob's yelling a few doors down. Her roommate, Janie Garza, a nurse who works for the Sarah Cannon Research Institute at Medical City, followed her as she followed him and Lisa to their suite.

Although Raymond and Garza have been performing CPR together for many years and have plenty of experience doing so, this was the first time they had attempted to save a life outside of a hospital. Warner is her mother-in-cardiologist, so Raymond also knew him.

A hotel security guard named Kodie Hartman quickly joined the CPR crew. A few minutes later, a different hotel employee arrived with an automatic external defibrillator, also known as an AED, which may shock a heart that has stopped back into rhythm.

The fact that the initial shock didn't work was a heartbreaking blow for the caregivers, who understood it meant his chances of life had drastically decreased. But they persisted. Resuming CPR, they delivered a second shock of defibrillation.

Garza reported that Warner appeared pale when she arrived and much paler after the initial shock. After the second shock, his color improved, and the AED's internal computer encouraged them to keep performing CPR but did not think a third shock was necessary.

Warner pushed her aside while Garza was giving her a rescue breath. Raymond checked his pulse.

She remarked, "It was thriving."

Warner was transported by paramedics to the University of California, Irvine Medical Center, where Dr. Pranav Patel used a catheterization operation to install a stent to open the coronary artery blockage. Warner has employed this method several times.

In the back of his heart, Warner had an entirely clogged artery. A partial blockage was caused by an accumulation of plaque, and a blood clot developed on top of it. The blockage, which was really more of a plumbing issue, caused a cardiac arrest as well as a heart attack.

Warner has returned to his position with the AHA and to work at UT Southwestern. Additionally, he attends cardiac rehabilitation three days a week on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

While it's understandable to assume the AHA president received preferential treatment, the truth is that his life was primarily spared thanks to a system the AHA has worked for years to make possible in towns across the nation so that anyone can be rescued - and a little bit of luck.

In a speech the day before Warner's medical drama, he mentioned that his family didn't have any "old men." He was aware that it might someday happen to him because both his father and grandpa underwent cardiac bypass surgery in their 60s. He made reference to the need for greater research in his address to clarify why members of families like his would be at a higher risk or whether they have particular risk factors.

Today, in his early 50s, Warner is one of the 92 million Americans living with cardiovascular disease or the symptoms of a stroke, despite everything he has done to monitor his health in an effort to prevent his father's and grandfather's fate.

Cardiac arrests can occur at any time, anywhere. Warner urges everyone to practice CPR. Additionally, he is in favor of making CPR instruction a requirement for high school graduation, although not all states do so.

The American Heart Association promotes CPR training to more people in the community to respond to cardiac emergencies and reduce cardiac arrest-related deaths.

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