Only about 10 percent of people who go into cardiac arrest outside a hospital survive, but in a way, the man face down in the Chicago hotel lobby Sunday could scarcely have been luckier.
Walking through that lobby, chatting with another Duke Medicine cardiologist about the importance of responding quickly to cardiac arrest, was Dr. Monique Anderson, who does research on cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Just hours earlier, Anderson had given a presentation to an American Heart Association conference on the importance of CPR. She has helped train thousands of people in CPR, created a short documentary video about CPR, and preaches, lives and breathes the importance of everyone learning CPR.
For a second, Anderson wondered if she was the victim of a prank. They were just leaving a reception by the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the building was packed with cardiologists, after all.
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But she quickly dismissed the thought. Cardiac arrest is more common than people think.
It was a large hotel, and the man was 200 or 300 feet away. But in another piece of remarkable luck for him, Anderson and her boss, Dr. Eric Peterson, are recreational runners - she does marathons. They dashed toward him, despite her dressy heels.
As they ran, Anderson told Peterson to call 911. CPR can be critical, but for their best chance of survival, victims of cardiac arrest often need someone with an electronic defibrillator to restart the heart, and she wanted an EMS crew there as quickly as possible.
Anderson and the other doctors rolled the man over on his back and noted that he had injured his face in the fall. Then she saw that he was wearing an American Heart Association pin.
This is one of us, she thought.
He was ashen-faced and had no pulse. Peterson, director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute, made the call and got an EMS crew on the way as Anderson went to work, compressing the man's chest quickly. In general, she promotes hands-only CPR, no breaths, and that's what she did, pressing down at a rate of about 100 times a minute.
"Ideally, people have enough oxygen in their blood to last about 10 minutes, so you really need to focus on chest compressions, because every minute when delaying CPR reduces survival by 10 percent," she said Tuesday.
After the first few compressions, the man started gasping. That's normal when someone is in the midst of cardiac arrest. She checked his pulse: Nothing, but that's also normal at that stage.
The compressions circulate the still-oxygenated blood around to keep the victim viable until he can get full treatment. It's not necessarily expected that CPR will restart the heart and revive the victim.
But that's what happened this time, after just 30 seconds or so, maybe 50 compressions.
The man sat bolt-upright. "I'm OK, I'm OK," he said.
But he clearly wasn't. For one thing, his face was cut so badly that they could see his jawbone. And, of course, there was his heart problem. They eased him back down and talked with him until the EMS team arrived.
As the EMS workers were wheeling him away, the man had revived enough to ask for Anderson's contact information.
"He actually said thank you to me," she said.
Anderson had performed resuscitations at Duke, but never before out in public, and she is still shaking her head at the coincidences involved.
On Monday, a friend of the victim sought the Duke doctors out at the conference and told them he was fine, that the hospital was sending him home, albeit with a device to monitor his heart.
"I think people don't always think about cardiac arrest happening, so they don't recognize the need to know CPR, but every single American over the age of 13 needs to know it," Anderson said Tuesday.
The incident, which was the subject of an American Heart Association blog post, is already helping her drive that lesson home. People have been emailing to say it is inspiring them to learn CPR.
"It still feels weird and crazy," she said. "We're at the conference, I'm talking about cardiac arrest, I presented on cardiac arrest, and there it is, cardiac arrest."