Ben Bersick learned CPR as a Boy Scout and trained on it plenty while in nursing school. But the first time he actually had to use it was on his father, Michael Bersick.
The family had gathered in Salt Lake City last November for an early Thanksgiving get-together, and Michael, 68, went outside to get something from his car. That’s when Ben, 41, pulled up – and also the point after which Michael doesn’t remember anything.
Doctors say it was Ben’s fast actions to call 911 and start CPR in the driveway that kept the retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel from becoming one of the nearly 117,000 Americans who die from a heart attack each year.
Michael, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, had an irregular heartbeat, a condition he’d known about since it was detected when he enlisted in 1966. Several months before his heart attack, his doctor had found calcium deposits in a heart artery. Michael was prescribed a statin drug and the cardiologist “sent me on my merry way,” he said.
To prevent any future life-threatening heart rhythms, doctors later implanted a defibrillator in Michael’s chest.
“The fact is, what saved my life was having someone there who knew [CPR],” Michael said. “And what makes it especially memorable is that it was my youngest son who was in his last semester in nursing school.”
Michael now talks to friends about his heart attack, and encourages them to check their own heart health. Ben encourages CPR instructors in the nursing program to share his story when students complain about CPR training.
“It’s the people we love that we use this on, not necessarily patients,” said Ben, who graduated from the nursing program in December and works for the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Someone in the U.S. has a heart attack every 42 seconds, and plenty occur in a hospital or medical setting. The need to know CPR can arise “with the people that you love,” Ben said.
“It still gets me choked up,” he continued, “but it makes me want to be prepared for the next thing that happens. I still want to be a super-nurse and help patients that I’m there to care for in the best way that I can.”