On Sunday, May 3, 2015, Kelsey Sheak, a 2015 Master of Public Health Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, woke up and prepared to run the 10K Broad Street Run. Shortly after starting the race, she noticed a crowd gathering around a collapsed man. Upon arriving at his side, Kelsey immediately put her CPR training into action. Kelsey was one of the many bystanders who helped this fallen runner survive from his cardiac arrest. Read her full story below.
CPHI: We heard you performed a life-saving procedure at the Broad Street Run on Sunday, May 3, 2015.
Kelsey Sheak: I did! I was running and between miles 2 and 3 I saw a crowd of people. There was a gentleman in the center of the crowd and he was clearly having a medical emergency. Shortly after I arrived, he lost his pulse. Once he lost his pulse, a group of bystanders and I started administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). We communally performed CPR – one person would start, another person would step in, and so on. After about ten minutes in, the Philadelphia Police Department came with an automated external defibrillator (AED). The police are trained on how to use AEDs and to provide emergency medical care. They took over for all the bystanders and the patient was shocked and taken to the hospital. We were sent on our way and told to continue running. It was a little weird!
CPHI: Let’s back up for a minute. You are a Master of Public Health (MPH) student, but clearly you are well trained in CPR. What is your background?
KS: It’s crazy because 40,000 people ran the Broad Street Run and for me to come upon this is just mind-blowing – really serendipitous. My background is in cardiac arrest research and education. By profession I spend my days learning as much as I can about CPR and ways to improve it, ways to disseminate it, and ways to make survival much better. To come across this situation where I needed to use it was crazy.
CPHI: Who were other bystanders?
KS: Most of the people that were helping the collapsed runner had medical backgrounds: nurses, a physician, and me. The most important take-home message is that he didn’t need a medical professional; he just needed someone to recognize that he was in cardiac arrest and that he needed CPR. Anyone who is trained can do that. If you’re not trained in CPR, you should be!
CPHI: How was it meeting the collapsed runner the next day in the hospital?
KS: I went to the hospital after he arrested and I was able to meet his family. They were very nice and very thankful. I’m happy to know that he will go back to having a normal life.
CPHI: I want to take a moment to address a common misconception: many people think a heart attack is the same as a cardiac arrest. Can you help clear up this confusion?
KS: A cardiac arrest is when your heart stops and blood flow stops to the entire body. With a heart attack, your heart doesn’t stop; rather, there is a blockage. Generally, people who have a heart attack have chest pain, they go to the hospital, and they can recover. Cardiac arrest generally happens with little to no warning and people are generally healthy when it happens. It can happen for a lot of different reasons and everyone’s reason is different.
CPHI: Is there a most common reason why cardiac arrest happens?
KS: There isn’t a most common reason – but there are situations that are most savable. The gentleman at the race had a savable arrest because he had a shockable arrest. This means that his heart was in a rhythm that a defibrillator could recognize and turn into a healthy heart rhythm. Places like airports, casinos, and races are places where lots of cardiac arrest victims do well – there are numerous educated people around and these places are heavily watched. But there are also places where people don’t do well – like low-income neighborhoods, which are less likely to receive bystander CPR.
CPHI: After you helped save a fellow racer, did you continue running?
KS: Yes, I finished the race!
For more information about CPR and cardiac arrest, please visit the Penn Medicine Center for Resuscitation Science website.