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Quick thinking, CPR saves man

A Mercer Island man and father of two survived what physicians said was a major heart arrhythmia on the Islander Middle School track at about 6 a.m., June 7. He is alive today thanks to CPR done by the Peak Performance exercise group, which saw him fall a few yards away.

Islander Jack Williams, 48, was out for his early morning run when he collapsed without warning. The exercise team nearby, headed by Eric Weber, saw him go down, and within minutes Weber dialed 911 as Erin White, a member of the group, established that Williams had no pulse and began CPR, witnesses said.

White said that when she first got to Williams and rolled him over on the track, she knew he wasn’t breathing and something was very wrong.

“As soon as I saw him I knew it was really bad,” she said. “His whole body was completely slack.”

White began CPR immediately.

Weber, who took over giving Williams chest compressions shortly after calling for help, said he was impressed with the way that the whole exercise group worked together.

“We knew that this guy’s life was basically running against the clock,” he said. “You’re just thinking: this person is a guy with a family and people who care about him.”

Island firefighters arrived a few minutes later and shocked Williams’ heart with a defibrillator. They transported him to Overlake Hospital, where he was soon taken to surgery. Williams did not regain consciousness until the next afternoon.

Surgeons placed an automatic defibrillator in Williams’ chest that will automatically shock his heart should he ever suffer another cardiac arrhythmia, which happens when a person’s heart beats too slow, too fast or irregularly.

This was the first time that Williams had experienced any heart problems.

The Mercer Island Fire Chief, Chris Tubbs, said that Williams went into cardiac arrest, and Williams said his doctors confirmed that he probably would not have survived the incident if the exercise group had not started giving him CPR immediately. As it is, he should be able to return to his active lifestyle.

“Monday was sort of a fog,” said Lowell Williams, Jack Williams’ wife. “It was pretty much the worst day of my entire life.”

She said that her husband hadn’t taken ID with him when he went running that morning, so she didn’t find out what had happened until a police sergeant came to her house hours later and asked what Jack had been wearing.

“All that the sergeant could tell me was that he was alive,” she said.

At this point she said that she was getting her two children, who are in middle and elementary school, ready to catch the bus.

“My daughter knew something was going on,” she said. “I told her that dad was hurt and he was going to be fine, even though I didn’t know.”

She said when she arrived at the hospital, the doctors had cooled down her husband’s body temperature to put him in a coma and minimize brain and heart damage. She sat and held his hand and read him the paper.

Nobody knew if he would wake up until he eventually started regaining consciousness on Tuesday afternoon.

“I finally knew he was going to be fine when he wanted to get up to use the bathroom,” Lowell Williams said. “I said, ‘You don’t have to do that; you have a catheter.’ And he said, ‘Well, that sucks.’”

“It’s been a miracle,” she said.

Both Lowell and Jack Williams said they were very thankful that this had happened where it did and that the Mercer Island community had been so supportive.

“I feel immense gratitude,” said Jack Williams, who has returned home from the hospital. “The colors are brighter. It’s great not to be in the hospital.”

He said that he doesn’t remember anything at all about the day that he collapsed.

“I don’t even remember getting up in the morning,” he said. “The first thing I remember is waking up Wednesday morning. I thought, geez, this is a really weird dream to have.”

Jack Williams, who works for the U.S. Marshall Service in Seattle, said that he was spared much of the trauma because he doesn’t remember anything that happened. His wife, on the other hand, bore the brunt of it.

Rosie Hausler, who was part of the Peak Performance exercise group, said they, too, were in suspense until they heard from the hospital later that day that Williams was in critical condition, but stable.

“I, at one point, didn’t think he was going to make it,” said Hausler. “It was very, very upsetting.”

Overall, Weber said Jack Williams’ story was both uplifting and sobering.

“I’m hopeful in the regard that people are willing to be Good Samaritans and help when they can,” he said. “It was sobering in that you never know when something can go wrong, so you just have to live every day to the fullest.”

Weber, Hausler and the Williams all said that this situation made it clear that taking CPR classes is important, and that it is a good idea to take ID and another person with you when you exercise.

The Mercer Island Fire Department reported that this was the third save of the year of six or seven known cases of cardiac arrest. According to the 2009 Mercer Island ‘Dashboard Report,’ King County has the highest cardiac arrest survival rate of any county in the nation, thanks to effective emergency medical care and civilians who know how to perform CPR.

Weber said that Jack Williams was very lucky to be where he was when he collapsed, but that even though this story had a happy ending, it is the kind of thing that sticks with you.

“The people in our group — they couldn’t stop talking about it,” he said. “It’s something you never forget.”

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