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Survivor's story inspires AED training

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

John Melzer was in the middle of a doubles tennis game in January 2002 when, out of the blue, he collapsed on the court.

“There was no pain, no nothing,” he recalled. “I just went down.”

Melzer later found out he had experienced sudden cardiac death. He survived only because the tennis club at the Palm Coast, Fla., community he lived in at the time had recently purchased an automated external defibrillator and the people he was with had been trained to give CPR until it arrived.

“They restarted my heart and here I am nine years later,” said Melzer, now 73 and a Tradition Club resident.

If he hadn’t received help within a few minutes, his story would have had a much different ending. His experience got him the nickname of “Miracle Man” at his old community and recently inspired Tradition’s Property Owners Association to purchase three of the devices, known as AEDs, and get about 40 of its residents trained in how to use it, as well as how to give CPR.

“We’re a community of 405 single family homes and the majority of people — a large majority — are over 60 years of age. It seemed like it might be a good idea to have one of these available, ” said Frank D’Amato, 68, president of the property owner’s association.

A device was purchased to be kept at the members’ clubhouse, which is a site for community meetings and events, and has a nearby pool and tennis courts.

Two additional AEDs were purchased for the club’s men’s golf leagues, so they can take them on the course with them when they play. The leagues will reimburse the association for the devices they will use.

Each AED costs about $1,300 and training is $27 per person.

“If we save just one life, I think it’s worth it,” said D’Amato.

Melzer’s wife, Donna, said she couldn’t agree more.

“It really is a small price to pay,” she said. “When you get the call saying your husband has gone down and his heart’s not beating, and somebody’s coming to pick you up— I really thought he was dead.”

She said she can’t describe the relief joy she experience when she found out he was going to make it.

“Every time I think about it, I get tears in my eyes. It really was a miracle,” she said.

The brain and other organs start to fail just four to six minutes after someone experiences cardiac arrest, according to the American Heart Association. A victim’s chances of survival are reduced by 7 to 10 percent with every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation.

“We lose a lot of savable people because there isn’t access to defibrillators and people aren’t trained to do high quality CPR,” said Carr Gilmore, a battalion chief with Midway Fire and Rescue. He is in charge of the community training center, a joint effort between Midway and the American Heart Association to provide CPR and AED training to groups and individuals.

“Early CPR and defibrillation work hand in hand to save people and are actually, in the eyes of the American Heart Association, the only two things proven to save someone in a sudden cardiac event,” Gilmore said.

CPR delivers oxygen to vital organs, buying time for a defibrillator to be fetched and utilized.

AEDs are so simple to operate that anyone can use one, Gilmore said. Once AEDs are turned on, they issue verbal instructions that guide users through attaching electrodes to the patient that allow it to analyze their condition.

If the device finds the patient’s heart has stopped, it tells the user to push a button that delivers an electric shock to restart the heart. The button won’t work if the patient has a pulse.

Melzer’s grandchildren learned to use the devices after his sudden cardiac death, and they were 4 and 5 at the time, Donna said.

Members of Tradition’s property owner’s association have been working to get AEDs in the community for about two years, according to Melzer.

“We had a lot of conversations with the owners, as well as course management, but they didn’t want to get involved,” he said. They had concerns about liability issues, so the property owners stepped in.

Now that the devices are on hand, more residents will be encouraged to sign up for training with Gilmore.

“We’re not going to let this slack off,” D’Amato said.

Tradition residents are hoping other communities will follow their lead, and Gilmore said that’s something he would love to see.

“It would be great to have an ambulance on every corner, but we don’t, so the more people we have in the community who have this training, the greater the chance for everyone in the community to survive a sudden cardiac event,” he said. “I think it’s super what Tradition has done here. They’ve really stepped up and done a great job.p>

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