Trails, Heart Attacks, and Choices

On Fourth of July weekend my husband, Gordon, might have saved a man’s life. We don’t know; we may never know.

While riding on a popular biking trail Gordon saw a man lying prone. Gordon’s medical training kicked in. He checked for a pulse. No pulse.

A group of four cyclists stopped to help. Gordon told one biker to call 911, told another to figure out exactly where they were, told the third to get on the road to flag down the ambulance when it came, and drafted the fourth to help with CPR.

They performed CPR.

An ER doc who was also riding the trail stopped about four minutes later and took over. When the ambulance arrived the EMTs were able to restart the man’s heart. We don’t know how the man fared after that.

So let’s back up and see how my husband happened to be on that trail at that particular moment.

Gordon and I were supposed to be up at in the mountains with friends for the weekend, but our friends bailed.

We live on Seattle’s eastside and decided to ride bikes the next day instead of going to the mountains. It would be a short ride because I’m still working on my distance (25 miles and counting!). That morning I woke up feeling ill and decided I needed to stay close to home.

That left Gordon free to take one of his favorite long rides, across 520, up the west side of Lake Washington, over the top, and down the Burke-Gilman trail.

It boggles the mind to think of all the forces that put Gordon on that trial at that moment, seconds after the man collapsed. Yes, it was a busy trail, and yes, the ER doctor was only about four minutes after Gordon, but four minutes is a long time to a dead man.

Is it divine intervention or randomness of the universe that put Gordon on that trail? I’m a church-goer, so I don’t take that question lightly. There are many things that we can’t control: whether friends bail on us for a weekend, whether we wake up sick, etc.

But there are some things we can control.

The more people on that trail who knew CPR the better that runner’s chances were, the more likely that he could go home to his family, the less left to serendipity of two doctors passing the same spot within scant minutes.

Again, we don’t know if the man survived. Some stories have very unhappy endings. Life can crush our souls during those moments. My heart goes out to his family if he did not make it.

What we do know is that Gordon’s knowledge of CPR gave that man a fighting chance.

Whatever your philosophy or religion, you can’t control everything in your life, even if you try. But there are choices and decisions to make.

After Gordon told me what happened I signed up for a CPR class. I chose to improve the chances for my friends, my neighbors, and especially, for Gordon.

I’m happy to say I’m now certified by the Red Cross in CPR and First Aid.

In this chaotic, unpredictable life, what do you choose? For my sake, in case you are passing by when I need you, I hope you choose to take a CPR class. 

Here’s the link for the American Red Cross:


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