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Teacher's Near-Death Experience Prompts Heart Health Education in Kansas School

Updated: May 31, 2023

CPR on Cardiac Arrest Victim
CPR on Cardiac Arrest Victim

A teacher's life-changing experience after suffering from a cardiac arrest has led him to raise awareness and educate his students about the importance of heart health.

Zach Nelson, a teacher, was working late on Sunday night to prepare for the upcoming week. He put his five-year-old son to bed before returning to his laptop to work on lesson plans. Zach grew tired and nodded off occasionally until he suddenly woke up in the intensive care unit after four days, which made no sense to him.

On January 22, 2017, Leah, Zach's wife, went to bed while waiting for him. She heard a sound like coughing and assumed it was their dog, Ike. When Zach didn't respond, she stepped outside and found him trembling and gasping in his recliner. Leah, who was six months pregnant, ran for her phone, called 911, and performed CPR on Zach when she realized he wasn't breathing and his heart had stopped.

Assistance arrived quickly, but not from paramedics. Two neighbors who heard the dispatch call were a nurse and a volunteer firefighter. Zach's heart was shocked back into a normal rhythm, and he was taken to the hospital. Physicians could not determine what was wrong with his heart, so he received an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which would shock his heart back into rhythm if necessary.

Zach now teaches gym at a primary school in Horton, Kansas, and discusses heart health with his students. He participates in the Kids Heart Challenge of the American Heart Association and educates his students about his ICD so they know how to help if he or anyone else needs it. Several parents told Zach that their children knew what to do if his ICD went off after a news report about him appeared on television.

About 70% of cardiac arrests that occur outside of hospitals happen in homes or residential settings. Starting CPR as soon as possible by a bystander can increase the likelihood of surviving a cardiac arrest by twofold. Zach and Leah received CPR training for their jobs, and Leah emphasizes how vital it is for everyone to learn this life-saving technique because it could mean the difference between life and death for a loved one.

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