One Night at the Theater, CPR was the Star

Edward Cornfeld, MD, a former Ob/Gyn from Rockville, Md., is one lucky man. At 87, the avid swimmer sits in the warm sun of his bright kitchen and thinks back to last June 18. “I remember waking up briefly in the ambulance, but that’s about it,” he says.

What he doesn’t remember is a heart attack that began just before a performance of District Merchants at Washington, D.C.’s Folger Theatre early this summer. The event was meant to be a fun, relaxing evening with three friends. As the players warmed up the crowd and bantered with audience members, Dr. Cornfeld’s breathing became restricted, and he collapsed on the gray stone of the intimate theater.

In the balcony, Michelle Michaels heard the cries for help. A nurse practitioner and former employee of MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Michaels says she assumed a doctor would certainly rush to help. “I waited for a minute,” she recalls. “There are doctors everywhere, so I assumed someone would help.” When she realized that no one was moving, she dialed 911 and, to her surprise, was the first to report the incident. After providing basic information, she rushed down the balcony steps, through the lobby, and on to the orchestra floor where she began administering CPR to Dr. Cornfeld.

Sitting nearby, Dylan Mehri, a student at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, debated leaving his seat and offering his help. He recalls thinking, “I’ll probably just be in the way. Someone else must be coming to help, right?” When no one appeared, Dylan got up. “I didn’t realize what I was doing at first,” he said. “I just took my CPR card out of my wallet and told the woman, Michelle, that I knew CPR and could help.” He knelt by Dr. Cornfeld’s side and began compressions.

According to the American Heart Association, 100 compressions a minute are recommended to best mimic a heart rate and keep blood flowing throughout the body to keep oxygen circulating to the brain.

Michelle shouted to the crowd of onlookers, “Is there an AED or a stethoscope or anything here we can use?” A staff member brought an AED (automated external defibrillator), and Michaels applied the panels to Dr. Cornfeld’s chest. Operating under the instructions of the machine, she administered a shock, then Mehri maintained hands-only CPR until the ambulance’s emergency medical technicians (EMT) arrived a few minutes later.

And that was the key. Those six to seven minutes that Dr. Cornfeld was unconscious were critical. “Time is life,” says Paul Corso, MD. “Had Michelle and Dylan not acted with the speed and knowledge they did, it is quite possible Dr. Cornfeld would not be with us today.”

Dr. Corso, chairman of Cardiac Surgery for MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at the Hospital Center, performed quadruple bypass surgery on Dr. Cornfeld a few days after he was stabilized. Dr. Corso says that because Dr. Cornfeld swam every day and did some light work with weights, he was an excellent surgical candidate with a strong chance for recovery.

And while Dr. Corso performed the lifesaving surgery, he still gives most of the credit to the good Samaritans who acted that day. “EMTs aren’t everywhere,” he says. “The more people who take the time to get certified in CPR and implementing an AED, the more people will be saved.”

After several weeks of recovery at the Hospital Center under the watchful eye of Dr. Corso and a staff that Dr. Cornfeld praises as “being set up just for my recovery and anticipating my every need,” followed by another couple of weeks in a rehab facility closer to his home and family, Dr. Cornfeld is thriving.

With a strong grip on his coffee cup and a shimmer of vitality flashing across his face, he asks, “How do you repay someone for your life?”

Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) Use

Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, at any time. With training, you can learn when and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) and to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

MedStar Health’s Simulation Training & Education Lab, or MedStar SiTEL, is an authorized American Heart Association Training Center, which offers classes in Heartsaver® CPR/AED training and first aid for community members.

Classes are $50 to $85 per person and last three to six hours. If you’d like to host a course at your location, call Cheryl Camacho at 202-888-9181 or 443-239-1187 or email her at [email protected].


Why You Should Learn CPR

Saving Lives in the Hospital…and on a Pier

One Sunday in September, I attended a party at the Fort Washington Marina, on the Potomac River south of Washington. It was after midnight and I was thinking of leaving, but I decided to take a final stroll. Little did I know was going to experience first hand how important it is to learn CPR.

As I walked along the pier, I heard someone scream for the DJ to turn the music off because someone had fallen in the water. I ran to the spot, which was increasingly chaotic. The water there was dark, murky, full of weeds and oily. Some experienced boaters from the marina were trying to locate the victim, and two jumped into that awful water. The scene was highly emotional. The victim’s wife was hysterical as she watched people trying to find her husband.

After repeated attempts, a swimmer dove beneath the dark surface and brought up the lifeless body of an adult African American male, apparently in his late 40s. Several men pulled him onto the pier. Luckily, a few party patrons had medical backgrounds, and were able to spring into action to try to save this man’s life. I was one of those people.

I knew someone had called 911, so I could immediately focus on rescue attempts. An onlooker who happened to be a paramedic felt for a carotid pulse, and started chest compressions. I quickly identified myself as a nurse, and assessed the victim’s airway. He was not breathing. “This man needs rescue breathing,” I said, and the paramedic replied, “Let’s work together.” In an instant, I had done a head-tilt and chin lift. I shouted “30 compressions!” and counted the beat for the paramedic. Then I delivered one breath. As I was about to give another, the man began to breathe on his own. I shouted the news, and called to have him turned on his side to prevent aspiration.

His breathing was shallow at first, but quickly became normal. As I cleared his airway, black sludge came from his nose. I maintained an airway and tried to assess his level of consciousness, saying his name in his ear. He responded once. I let his wife talk to him, knowing he’d recognize her voice. I held his head in my hand, and monitored him until Prince George’s County (Maryland) EMS workers arrived. By then the man had a strong pulse and was breathing normally. The chaos ended, and I went home.

But I wondered about the man’s progress, and wished I had a way to contact the family. A local boater, who had helped with the rescue, gave me the wife’s phone number. I called her and introduced myself. The woman immediately broke down crying. It was two minutes of crying before she could say, “I just want to thank you so much for giving me my husband back.” She said she had feared she’d never be able to locate and thank his rescuers.

This incident reinforced my belief that if you have the opportunity to learn CPR, you need to do it. It always seems like a drag to renew certification, because you feel like you will never use those skills. But you never know, so it is best to remain current. This was the first time I did rescue breathing in my 30 years of nursing. I am so glad I did not leave the party earlier. I saved a life with one breath…WOW!! This incident also shows the power of teamwork. Here was a group of people who did not know each other but worked together, and got the job done. Kudos to all involved!

I am happy to report the victim is recovering. He was air-lifted to a local trauma hospital and placed on a heart/lung machine. He is now off the machine, and breathes with the assistance of a ventilator through a tracheotomy.  His family says he remembers nothing about the incident, and asks questions by writing on a tablet. The family, which includes young children, says he “is headed for a long recovery.”

I’m proud I helped rescue someone. But I feel like I save people’s lives every day. I work in cancer care. Yes, I was outside my work area that night, but I just went into work mode. Still, it made me realize the magnitude of the effect. This is someone’s husband. This is someone’s father. This is someone’s child. (I plan to meet with his mother soon). I’m just glad I was there and could render the help when I did. Once a nurse, always a nurse, and always on duty — even when you are not.


Save a life!

Learn CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) usage with MedStar Health’s Simulation Training & Education Lab, an authorized American Heart Association Training Center that offers classes in HeartSaver® CPR, AED training and first aid.  If you’d like to host a course, contact Cheryl A. Camacho at 202-888-9181| or [email protected]

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