Each weekday at lunchtime, Maurice Trosclair ran four miles along the Lake Pontchartrain levee near his office building in Metairie, a New Orleans suburb. An avid runner, Maurice, 55, had completed a half-marathon nine days earlier.
But on Feb. 14, 2017, a gut feeling urged Maurice to end his run at the one-mile mark and to return to the office to finish some work. He also needed to pack before he left on a trip to New York City.
Maurice, a geosciences technician, also was a trombone player who was set to perform with Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra the next day at Lincoln Jazz Center.
His cell phone buzzed as he walked toward the elevator in his office building. His wife, Nancy, had sent him a text to thank him for the Valentine’s Day card that he had taped to their backyard fence.
He was replying to Nancy’s text on the elevator ride to the ninth floor when he suddenly collapsed and fell facedown. Nancy’s text was the last thing Maurice would remember for the next four days. He had suffered a cardiac arrest.
Two women who were inside the elevator, Sandy Ortego and Kim Duplessis, immediately sprang into action when the elevator stopped.
Sandy dashed out to get help at Premiere Athletic Club located on the ninth floor where Maurice had been headed to take a shower. Kim stayed inside the elevator as it headed up to the 21st floor. The building has “smart” elevators where people select their floor destination before getting inside.
Kim grabbed Maurice’s phone before it locked up and called the last person he had texted. Nancy answered an incoming call on her cell phone at another gym where she was exercising.
“Hey baby,” Nancy said, fully expecting to hear Maurice’s voice. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
There was an awkward silence.
“Do you know someone who works in this building?” Kim asked.
“Yes, of course, my husband,” Nancy said. “You called me from his phone.”
Kim tells Nancy that Maurice has just suffered a heart attack much to Nancy’s shock.
“What?” Nancy tells Kim. “He had just run a half marathon. He’s healthy.”
For the next 50 minutes, Kim keeps Nancy on the phone as the emergency response unfolded that would involve the assistance of six people, each playing a vital link in the chain of survival.
The elevator proceeded to the 21st floor next. When the doors opened, Suzanne Howard, a nurse for People’s Health, was nearby waiting for another elevator. She saw Maurice lying face down. She immediately ran over to him and started CPR while the elevator doors closed and proceeded to its next stop, which took about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, Sandy arrived at the athletic club and told the manager, Roy Fontenelle, about Maurice’s situation. They called 911. Roy grabbed the health club’s Automated External Defibrillator (AED), which was the only AED in the building. Roy and club employee, Kaitlyn Reis, ran to go find Maurice.
The elevator finally arrived back on the first floor, where Tricha Arabie, another nurse who works for People’s Health, was waiting. Suzanne screamed that she needed help. Tricha took over the CPR efforts and tagged team with Suzanne.
Roy and Kaitlyn found Maurice on the first floor. The AED was deployed and shocked Maurice one time. Maurice was checked for a pulse before CPR resumed. When the EMT team arrived, they administered four additional shocks. They also put an automatic chest compression device known as a Lucas 3 and administered continuous manual breathing. The EMT team got Maurice on the ambulance and sped to East Jefferson General Hospital.
Doctors intubated Maurice who was put in a medically induced coma. Four days later, he was released from the hospital donning a bright yellow cape with the letter “M” on the back.
Before he suffered a cardiac arrest, Maurice said AEDS were not top of mind for him.
“That’s the thing – the more we educated ourselves about what happened to me, it got to the point where at every place, I’m looking for an AED,” he said. “I’m performing at venues looking for the AED. It’s mind boggling how many places of high volumes of people traffic don’t have one.”
The lifesaving efforts that unfolded on Feb. 14, 2017 inspired Maurice and Nancy to form a nonprofit called Heartbeat NOLA, which encourages CPR training among residents, increases awareness about AEDs and raises funds to purchase AEDS for music venues throughout New Orleans.
Maurice, who also has written music for years, turned to music to help him cope with the anxiety and questions that lingered after his cardiac emergency. He said he also wanted to write to see if that part of his brain still functioned properly.
“The first song I wrote is ‘You Are Not Alone,’ because I had fellow survivors on my mind,” he said. “I was feeling what they’re feeling. The lyrics and music were meaningful to me but also the people I was writing for.”
He continued with his songwriting, which spurred his first solo album titled,” Grateful: A Sudden Cardiac Arrest Survivor’s Awakening,” which was released in December. All proceeds from album sales will benefit Heartbeat NOLA.
Twenty musicians collaborated on the project with Maurice, who said the album is a tribute to people who save lives and conveys the message that tomorrow is not guaranteed.
“When you put together all the songs that came together on this project, it’s a basically a musical thank you note to everyone that not only saved my life but save lives every day,” he said. “Because this whole experience has opened up my eyes that anybody can save someone’s life. If you have two hands, call 911 and get an AED.”
Maurice encourages the public to become educated about CPR during CPR and AED Awareness week, which is June 1-7. He said it’s important to learn CPR now more than ever as many people are spending a lot of time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Where do most cardiac arrests happen? In the home,” he said. “Chances are you’re going to save the life of somebody you love. Our EMS is stretched. We need to become citizen first responders. We need to play our role just like we are now with social distancing. We need to play our role in the first move in the chain of survival.”