Decent: CPR helped save a man’s life while he was out on a run. Now, he and his wife are learning the life-saving technique and paying it forward
There are plenty of reasons to take a first aid class: It can help you to help others in an emergency, it can help paramedics even before they arrive on the scene and in rare occasions it can even save a life.
For Matthew and Kelly Smith, the reason is uniquely personal. Six years ago, Smith’s life was saved by passers-by after he suffered cardiac arrest while out running.
Smith, a Naperville real estate agent, is now a board member of Naperville CAPS (Citizens Appreciate Public Safety). He’s not only thankful to the people who saved him, but to the paramedics of Naperville Fire Station No. 1. I met up with him as the CAPS board took a CPR and Stop the Bleed refresher at Safety Town recently.
The strange thing was when I asked Smith about his brush with death, it was his wife who told the story.
He doesn’t remember much about it, having been placed in a medically induced coma at Edward Hospital for six days.
“It was March 26, 2017,” she said. “I was at my parents’ home in Iowa when I got a phone call from the emergency room at Edward Hospital. Matthew had gone for a run before dinner. He had been running along Chicago Avenue near Huffman when he collapsed onto the street and the curb. A lady stopped and gave him CPR. Then a car with a nurse and a nursing student stopped. They all took turns doing CPR while someone else called 911. Fire Station 1 responded. They used paddles to shock him on the sidewalk and in the ambulance. By the time got to Edward he had a normal rhythm.”
The first person to stop was Jackie Cunningham, who was later recognized with a CAPS award.
“Matt was placed in an induced coma for six days followed by five further days in hospital,” Smith said.
Unfortunately, when he was revived from the coma doctors found he had internal bleeding. Her husband took up the story.
“Turns out I had a hemangioma on my liver,” he said. “We’re not sure if it ruptured when I collapsed or if it was from the CPR. I was given 11 units of blood, but I was finally able to walk out of the hospital. Three stents were put into my heart on the night of cardiac arrest with two more later. I don’t remember anything. I woke up six days later. There was no family history. I had just turned 40.”
Smith owes his life not only to the medical team, but to the random people who just happened to be passing at the right time.
“The person wasn’t a medical person,” he said of Cunningham. “She was just someone driving by who thought they saw a pile of rags on the ground and realized it was a person. She stopped and did CPR and then two nurses stopped. With sudden cardiac arrest you only have a 10% chance of survival outside of a hospital. Without intervention I would have been brain dead.”
At the time, the Smith’s children were age 8, 7, 5 and 1.
“I wanted to find the good Samaritans because our kids got their dad back,” said Matthew Smith. “It was very scary at the time for all of us but our friends and community helped. I joined CAPS because I was really appreciative of the help. I had blocked arteries. I was lucky. The guardian angels were running with me that morning. I would run three and a half miles a day because at the time I was getting ready for the Quad City marathon.”
Kelly says the family now recognizes the date every year as her husband’s bonus year anniversary. On the first anniversary, Kelly and their children drove behind Matthew as he completed the three-and-half mile run he should have finished a year earlier.
She says she always remembers that one of the firefighter/paramedics told her it was husband’s luckiest and unluckiest day.
Since then the couple have attended other CPR classes.
“I think it makes sense to get refreshed on CPR,” said Smith. “It’s not one and done.”
The city of Naperville offers several classes in CPR and AED training. The one I attended was led by their 2022 Firefighter of the Year, Paramedic Daryl MacDonald, whose job is to educate the public in first aid.
“Things change,” he said. “Nowadays the big push in CPR is compressions, hard and fast. Before, if people didn’t want to do mouth-to-mouth it made our job harder. We tell people to check if someone is breathing by looking at the color of their face and if their chest is moving. We used to say to feel for a pulse, but if people weren’t confident, they wouldn’t do it. If the chest isn’t moving, push on it. If you’re being a good Samaritan, you can’t be sued so don’t worry. We need you to get involved.”
MacDonald explained that anyone can use an AED as the machine calls out instructions once it’s opened. However, he warned it’s nothing like we see on TV.
“You don’t shock someone who flatlines. With an AED you are shutting the heart down for a couple of seconds, hoping it will start on its own. I met a person at one class who was shocked a total of 52 times and he survived.”
Naperville uses an app called PulsePoint Respond, where certified AED users can be notified if they are close to an incident.
“We rely on you guys to register,” said MacDonald. “You are alerted if the incident is in a public place and you are nearby. We have 200 AEDs registered on PulsePoint.”
Anyone interested in becoming certified in CPR visit www.naperville.il.us/services/naperville-fire-department/programs-and-services/first-aid-and-cpr-aed-certification.
You never know, you just may save a life.