Penn Medicine News Blog

September 17, 2014 // By Sally Sapega // Comments

A Great Save

Heart // Patient Stories

Lucky save 002Running along the Schulykill River Trail was a frequent outing for Todd Tewksbury, a 27-year-old mechanical engineer. So when he started his run last one evening last month, the last place he expected to end up was in the emergency room of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

“I remembered passing the Philadelphia Museum and starting to feel a little woozy,” Tewksbury said. “After that, nothing.”

Very luckily, two doctors were running behind him when he collapsed. “We thought at first he was seizing so I started rubbing his chest to control the seizure while my wife [an emergency medicine resident] made sure his airway was open,” said Aaron Mendelson, MD, a third year internal medicine resident at HUP. But it clearly wasn’t helping. Todd’s heart had stopped beating and he remained unconscious. He was in cardiac arrest.

Mendelson immediately switched to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to keep the flow of blood – and oxygen – flowing to Tewksbury’s organs. Others who saw what was happening helped as well. “It was a community effort. Some helped do the compressions. Another person went to a local rec center and got an AED [automated external defibrillator],” Mendelson said. Someone else called 9-11 and other bystanders directed the EMS team to the right location. They couldn’t drive up because it was a pedestrian path.

Thanks to the quick responses of many good Samaritans and the HUP emergency room staff, Tewksbury was on his way to a full recovery. A few days after being admitted, he received an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, a device that's placed internally to help treat arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).

Cardiac arrest – in which the heart suddenly stops – is the most time-sensitive disease in all of medicine. For every minute a person in arrest goes without treatment, the chance of death increases by 10-15 percent. Over 90 percent of victims of sudden cardiac arrest die before reaching the hospital. In Philadelphia alone, more than 1,000 people have cardiac arrest each year.

According to Mendelson, immediate and constant CPR – and the AED – helped save Tewksbury’s life. In a 6ABC interview, he said “I think anyone trained in CPR could have done what we did. It doesn’t have to be a nurse or physician.”

The AED played a significant role in saving his life as well. Indeed, “it can triple the chance of survival,” said Benjamin Abella, MD, clinical research director of Penn’s Center for Resuscitation Science. But would you know where to find one in such an emergency? Thanks to Penn’s MyHeartMap Challenge, locating the nearest AED in Philadelphia is as close as your cell phone.

The 2012 contest used crowdsourcing tactics to help locate over 1,500 AEDs across the city. With the information gathered from hundreds of participants, researchers at Penn created an app which pinpoints the location of public AEDs in Philadelphia. You can download the free app.

Earlier this year, the Penn Defibrillator Design Challenge took AED awareness to the next level, aiming to draw attention to these life-saving devices and educate the public about their use through engaging artwork in the space immediately surrounding the AEDs.  Check out some of the unique winning designs.

Less than a week after his cardiac arrest, Tewksbury went home, “grateful for everyone who helped me when I needed it.” His future plans include learning CPR, so “I can help someone else in need.”

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