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Pair saves tennis player
Island doctors rescue cardiac-arrest victim
Island resident Eric Rothenberg owes his life to the Mercer Island Country Club men’s tennis league. He owes it to his friends who were there on the court with him last month. He owes it to the two doctors who dashed from the MICC lounge to the court when Rothenberg collapsed. He owes it to the Country Club staff, who rushed to his side with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), which jump-started his heart. All of these factors — the setting, the reactions, the timing — are the reason why Rothenberg is alive today.
Shortly after 10 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24, Rothenberg began feeling faint while playing tennis with his friends at the MICC. Not knowing what was wrong, the 42-year-old got down onto his knees. And then he collapsed. A case of sudden cardiac arrest.
Rothenberg’s tennis partners immediately yelled for someone to call 911. Within seconds, two MICC members, both of whom happened to be doctors, were at Rothenberg’s side administering CPR. Minutes later, they were using the MICC defibrillator to jump-start the man’s heart. The EMT team had yet to arrive. When they did, Rothenberg’s pulse was already beating again.
Rothenberg, who is feeling healthy and active today, only a week after the cardiac arrest, said his rescue was a miracle.
“The fact that those two doctors were there, and the defibrillator, are the reasons I survived. If I had been anywhere else, it would have been too late,” Rothenberg said, citing the statistic that, for each minute that goes by without defibrillation, a cardiac arrest victim’s survival rate decreases by 10 percent.
Dr. Alan Geltzer, one of the two doctors to respond to Rothenberg, agreed.
“There were a lot of things that came together to save his life. There were lots of people around, and those involved were able to jump on things and get things going,” Geltzer said, adding that the fact that MICC had a defibrillator was essential. “There’s no question, the defibrillator and CPR kept Eric alive. It’s tremendous that the Country Club has one.”
According to Mercer Island firefighter Alec Munro, who is in charge of the department’s defibrillator training program, the MICC is one of several Island facilities with an AED. Others include City Hall, the Community Center at Mercer View, the Mercer Island Thrift Shop, Luther Burbank and Groveland Beach, as well as Mercer Island High School. Although he could not verify the statement, Munro said he believes that, like the Country Club, all the Island’s private clubs carry AEDS in their medical emergency kits.
In 1998, the Washington state Legislature passed a law that grants any person or entity in possession of a defibrillator immunity from civil liability. This has propelled many public and private organizations to purchase the equipment.
As for the Mercer Island Fire Department, Munro said there are several AEDs at the North-end and South-end stations. In fact, the Mercer Island EMT-defibrillation program, begun in 1972, was the first of its kind in the world, according to the City of Mercer Island Web site.
“All firefighters are EMTs, and that includes defibrillator training. Our defibrillators are in our aid cars and our engines. They’re always with us,” Munro said.
Munro was one of the first EMTs to arrive at the scene on Sept. 24. Although the Island team had a defibrillator with them, they were relieved to see that one was already being used on Rothenberg.
Survival from sudden cardiac arrest, according to the American Heart Association, is only 2 to 5 percent if defibrillation is provided more than 12 minutes after collapse. Death can occur within minutes if the victim receives no treatment. Brain damage can occur four to six minutes after the heart stops pumping blood.
However, when bystanders perform effective CPR immediately, they can double a victim’s chance of survival.
Such was the case with Rothenberg.
It took Bellevue paramedics nearly 10 minutes to arrive at the South-end Country Club with an ambulance. Geltzer and Dr. Niraj Patel were administering CPR to Rothenberg within seconds.
“The heroic part of this story is that Dr. Geltzer and Dr. Patel jumped without hesitation, within 30 seconds,” Rothenberg said. “They were doing serious CPR — alternating between mouth-to-mouth and 30 compressions — until the paramedics arrived.”
When asked what it felt like to be a hero, Patel replied with the modesty one might expect of a doctor.
“You get so focused when this happens. You check vitals, you check breathing. I’m glad we were there and knew what we were doing. It makes you feel good that you can help somebody,” he said.
Yet Patel, a Seattle ophthalmologist, does not save lives every day. Neither does Gelzter, an internist at Overlake Internal Medicine Associates.
Both doctors said Rothenberg’s emergency was the first time they could remember saving anyone’s life outside a hospital setting. Geltzer added that, as a hospital intern, he experienced sudden cardiac arrest cases that ended tragically.
“This is the first time I’ve had somebody survive that I can remember,” the Island resident said. “Even in the hospital, when people get to that state and there’s the equipment and personnel all around who know what they’re doing, it’s a very hard thing to make it through.”
Both Geltzer and Patel said they were thrilled to hear how well Rothenberg was doing a week later.
A few days after the emergency, Rothenberg was back at home with his two sons and wife, Edith. He suffered no brain damage and now carries an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) near his heart to detect any further episodes of cardiac arrhythmia. Doctors say he does not need to make any lifestyle changes, as long as he gets regular exercise and eats right.
“I’m doing fine — recuperating. Because I don’t have artery disease or blockage, there are no restrictions to my actions,” he said.
Yet on another level — a more personal and emotional one — Rothenberg has difficulty expressing how he feels.
“It’s hard to articulate. It makes me not only appreciate the people who were there to help, but the Mercer Island community. Even people I don’t know have offered their support and prayers,” Rothenberg said. “It’s like looking at my kids and my family, and having a greater appreciation for life.”