It was a mild evening in late January 2014 when Michael Chaison’s heart stopped beating. He was working as a referee at a high school soccer game between Sabino and Salpointe, he says, and “about 20 minutes in, I turned to run up the field and I basically just dropped dead.” Fortunately for him, Salpointe’s trainer was on hand that night, and he was equipped with an automated external defibrillator (AED) machine. A captain from the fire department also happened to be in the stands and, when Chaison hit the ground, rushed down to the field and began performing CPR. It took about four minutes for the fire department to respond to the emergency call and Chaison was transported to University Medical Center within about fifteen minutes.
Like many of the more than 350,000 people in the United States who experience sudden out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each year, Chaison had no idea that he was even at risk before he collapsed. “I did not have any symptoms,” he says, “I was not dizzy, I was not having the shooting pains you hear about … I just went down in a lump. Next thing I remember was waking up at UMC with a bunch of needles stuck in me.” Since about 90 percent of out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest victims die, Chaison knows that he was “very fortunate” to be where he was when he had his heart attack.
Only about one-third of cardiac arrest victims receive any bystander intervention in the crucial minutes before paramedics are able to make it on scene and, according to the co-director of the University of Arizona Medical School’s Sarver Heart Center, Karl Kern, it is in those first few minutes that intervention is the most important factor for survival. “From the very beginning, every minute counts,” Kern says. Kern, who is one of the original developers of chest-compression-only CPR, says studies have shown that for every minute of delay before CPR starts, a patient’s chances of survival fall by about 10 percent.
Kern says instances of unexpected collapse in adults are “almost always cardiac arrest.” And, he says, if a witness is able to start compression-only CPR on that victim immediately, “even if we didn’t have an AED nearby and the paramedics arrived six minutes later and shocked you, you would almost certainly wake up long before you even got to the hospital.” A lack of or delay in treatment, though, can lead to brain damage or death within eight minutes, Kern says.
This is why the Steven M. Gootter Foundation —a local non-profit dedicated to “saving lives by defeating Sudden Cardiac Death,” according to its website — spent roughly $50,000 to implement the use of a life-saving app called PulsePoint in the Tucson community, in partnership with the Tucson Fire Department. The app, which is free to download, sends an alert to anyone registered who happens to be within about a quarter-mile of an emergency cardiac event when it occurs, enabling bystanders with knowledge of CPR to get to the scene potentially much faster than a professional emergency responder. The app also tells users the location of the nearest AED during such an emergency. PulsePoint has been implemented in communities in 25 states (including Arizona, since late April) and Steven M. Gootter Foundation President and Co-Founder Andrew Messing says it has saved a number of lives around the nation since its 2010 release.
The foundation came to be after sudden cardiac death claimed the life of an athletic, 42-year-old local entrepreneur, father and member of the Jewish community, Steven M. Gootter, in February 2005. About a dozen of Gootter’s friends and family members came together to establish the all-volunteer organization and have since spent between $250,000 and $350,000 each year in an effort to fund research and provide AEDs for places like schools, houses of worship and youth organizations that don’t yet have them. Messing, Gootter’s brother-in-law, says Gootter’s death was shocking; the organization’s namesake “had no previous heart disease or condition” that anyone knew of. This, Messing says, was the driving force behind setting up the foundation: “To try and save other families from this type of tragedy…if it can happen to him, it can truly happen to anybody.”
By mid-May, just about a month after its local introduction, the PulsePoint app had been downloaded 865 times with 681 of those users saying that they would be willing to perform CPR on-scene if alerted. Still, the Steven M. Gootter Foundation would like to see it on every smartphone in the community. Kern says that, much like his improvement on standard resuscitation techniques, the app could help to double again the survival of cardiac arrest victims in Southern Arizona.
The Talmud tells us that “Whoever saves one life saves the entire world,” a motto that Gootter’s mother, Paula, takes to heart.
“We believe that Steve’s life was lost for a greater meaning,” Messing says. “You can’t put a price or a value on (a human life), and this is our little way of trying to make a difference.”
Craig S. Baker is a freelance writer in Tucson.