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Staff uses defibrillator to restart man's heart

For the second time within a year, an automated external defibrillator and quick action by staff members at St. Croix Valley YMCA have saved a person's life.

This time, the heart of an unnamed older man was shocked back into rhythm after he suffered cardiac arrest while using an exercise cycle.

The YMCA won't release the man's name without his permission and was unable to contact him before this report went to press.

Aquatics Director Ashley Rohlman was the manager on duty when the episode happened Sunday afternoon, Feb. 27. She remembers the time, 3:45 p.m., because swimming lessons were just beginning.

Linda Novak, a swimming instructor at the Y, was working out on an exercise cycle next to the victim when he collapsed. They were in the part of the second-floor fitness area next to the track and overlooking the swimming pools.

Novak alerted the fitness staff to the situation. She then got the man untangled from the cycle, and with the help of others who came to assist, onto his back on the floor. Meanwhile, a fitness staff member notified the front desk to call for Rohlman and an ambulance.

Fitness staff member Naomi Dahl ran to grab the defibrillator from its case on a wall behind the treadmills and elliptical machines in the fitness area.

The unconscious man wasn't breathing and his pulse was weak, so staff members Cathy Jo Sammon and Heather Duncan began giving him artificial respiration, using a resuscitation mask.

At the same time Sammon was turning on the defibrillator and attaching the sensors to the victim's chest.

The automated device instructed the rescuers to continue with CPR when it finished its first assessment. Moments later, after a second assessment, it said the victim needed a shock and instructed them to push the button and step back.

The shock readjusted the man's heart rate, according to Rohlman.

By that time, another staff member had arrived with the Y's oxygen tank and connected it to the resuscitation mask, giving the victim pure oxygen to breath.

A minute later, a St. Croix Emergency Medical Services paramedic arrived and took over. The rest of the ambulance crew got there shortly after, loaded the man on the ambulance and took him to the hospital.

Rohlman said the man didn't regain consciousness while he was at the Y, but is doing well now.

"He is chomping at the bit to get back into the Y. The doctors are saying, slow down," Membership Director Sue Olstad added. "He was a very regular member. He was in good shape."

St. Croix Valley YMCA got its first defibrillator a year and a half ago. It was used for the first time on May 3, 2004, to revive Jerry Panning of North Hudson, who suffered a heart attack while jogging on the facility's indoor track.

The staff of YMCA Camp St. Croix just south of Hudson reportedly also used a defibrillator to revive a cardiac arrest victim within recent months.

St. Croix Valley YMCA now has two defibrillators. One is kept in a wall case in the front lobby next to the swimming pools, and the other in the second-floor fitness area.

The local YMCA acquired the oxygen tank a couple of months ago in response to a directive from higher up that every facility in the Twin Cities metropolitan area be equipped with one.

Olstad notes that every staff member, including custodians and office workers, at St. Croix Valley YMCA is trained in first aid, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and how to use a defibrillator.

The Y also has written protocols that the staff follows for dealing with a variety of emergencies - including heart attacks and accidents.

Rohlman said staff members followed protocol "to a T" in the Feb. 27 medical emergency.

"We feel very good. We're very proud of our staff for how they reacted and the job they did," Rohlman said.

"Hey, we're two for two," Olstad added with a laugh. "If they're trained, it certainly lessens the possibility that they'll panic."

Rohlman, also a first aid instructor, said her training and previous experiences with medical emergencies allowed her to remain calm during the recent episode. It was the third emergency she had responded to in which a defibrillator was used to save a person's life. The other two experiences happened at YMCAs where she worked previously.

Defibrillators have been used numerous times to save lives at YMCAs throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area, Rohlman said.

"They're really easy to use. They're a wonderful machine and we're very lucky to have them," she said.

Olstad said the family of the man that was rescued is extremely grateful to the YMCA and its staff. They realize that if he had been someplace else when he had his heart attack the outcome might not have been the same.

Randy Hanson can be contacted at

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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