Tom Hesse was coming in from right field last September when everything went black and he collapsed on the softball diamond near first base. Luckily, fellow ballplayers in the senior league leapt into action and began Hands-Only CPR that helped save Hesse’s life.
Retired EMT Tim Books and John Kerhin, who ran over from an adjacent field, began the steps of CPR. Both men thought Hesse wouldn’t make it, but Kerhin kept the compressions going for 4 minutes until paramedics arrived. The emergency personnel finally revived Hesse with three shocks to the heart from a defibrillator.
“When I took over, there were really no signs of life,” said Kerhin.
Hesse had suffered sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart stops because of a dangerously irregular heartbeat. The 69-year-old husband, father and grandfather needed CPR to pump the oxygen-rich blood to his brain, lungs and other vital organs until paramedics got there and shocked him back to life.
Each year in the United States, more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of hospitals. Only about 12 percent survive, according to statistics from the American Heart Association. CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival.
“I was pretty much flatlined, I think, for about 20 minutes total,” Hesse said. “I talked to the EMTs, and they said they really had a heck of a time getting me going again.”
Capt. David Bandomir of the fire department in West Allis, Wisconsin, marveled at the events.
“He’s completely back to function. It completely would not have happened if not for a couple of people stepping up,” said Bandomir, whose department responded to the scene the morning of Sept. 6.
“His doctor said it was a miracle,” said Books, who was an EMT for 12 years. “They’re saying our CPR basically kept him alive, kept the blood flowing.”
At a ceremony last fall at the ballfield recognizing Kerhin and Books for their actions, fire officials taught Hands-Only CPR to ballplayers and others between games. They have also done demonstrations at other sporting events and at the Wisconsin State Fair, where they trained about 1,400 people, Bandomir said.
Hands-Only CPR has two steps: Call 911 and push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the disco song “Stayin’ Alive.” During CPR, push on the chest at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. The beat of “Stayin’ Alive” is a perfect match.
“If they hadn’t immediately started CPR, I would have been dead. They saved my life,” Hesse said. “Obviously, it’s something everybody should learn, including myself.”
His wife, Christine, said when she learned her husband might die, the drive to the hospital was excruciating. When she arrived at the emergency room and was told they were trying to find him a bed, her worst fears were laid to rest.
“I’m really thankful,” she said. “The thought of being a widow at my age is very scary.”
Kerhin said he was grateful when a retired pastor who offered up a prayer at the scene called him to tell him the good news.
“It was quite a rewarding experience to know that he made it.”
Hesse said jokingly that he’s glad Kerhin was willing to perform CPR on him since he had run him over in a previous game trying to stretch a double into a triple.
“I’m glad he didn’t hold a grudge,” he said.