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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CPR Takes Center Stage and Saves a Theatergoer’s Life

(Photo from left to right) Cardiac surgeon Paul Corso, MD, joined former MedStar Washington Hospital Center nurse practitioner Michelle Michaels, retired physician Edward Cornfeld, and Dylan Mehri to talk about the importance of knowing and using CPR.

A former MedStar Washington Hospital Center nurse saved the day for an elderly man who fell ill in the audience at the Folger Theatre performance in D.C. on June 18. From an upper-level theater seat, Michelle Michaels, NP, who worked on our heart failure unit until about a year ago, saw the man in distress and called 911. After calling, she made her way down to the manEdward Cornfeld, a retired ob-gyn– who was soon transported to the Hospital Center where cardiac surgeon Paul Corso performed a quadruple bypass procedure. While awaiting the ambulance, Michelle and another theatergoer, Dylan Mehri, performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and applied an AED (automated external defibrillator) that the theater had on-site. Their actions may have saved Dr. Cornfeld’s life.

Anyone can learn and use CPR and AEDs. Take a moment to learn!

Here are things to know to help a person in distress:

Call 911 immediately. NEVER assume that someone else has called. Although the theater was crowded, Michelle’s call was the first one the emergency operator received.

Start CPR. “If you don’t have a mask, you can just do chest compressions and it works! It worked great and it saves a lot of time. That’s all I did was compressions,” Michelle said, noting that the latest CPR guidelines recommend compressions only. This technique frees would-be rescuers from worry about opening an airway or mouth-to-mouth breathing.

MedStar Washington Hospital Center has AEDs in 24 locations on campus, including wall-mounted devices in these public areas: Main Entrance, Physician Office Building North desk,  Cafeteria (near the ATM), East Building lobby, and the Bus Circle entrance.

Want to Learn CPR?

  • The District of Columbia “Serve DC” volunteer program is offering free, 4-hour CPR-certification courses during July (each course is 4 hours each,  from 5:45 p.m. – 9 p.m., July 19, 21, 26, 28). To register, visit or call (202) 727-7925.
  • DC Fire and EMS offers free training in hands-only CPR (using chest compressions without artificial respiration).  Phone number: (202) 673-3320.
  • The American Red Cross also offers classes for a fee. Visit

29 Things You Should Do for a Healthy Heart

You’re heard it many times before -- follow a healthy lifestyle for a healthy heart. Sounds simple, right?  But it’s not always so easy to pull off. A heart healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk for heart disease by as much as 80%!  But what is a “heart healthy lifestyle”?  It’s a commitment to many habits in our daily lives centered on our activity, diets, mindset and awareness.  There is no one “magic” thing. When lifestyle isn’t enough, talk with your doctor to set goals you can realistically achieve, such as losing weight or lowering your cholesterol or blood pressure levels. Sometimes, it takes medications that can be very helpful to optimizing your heart risk.

So, commit to making the many small lifestyle changes that make a healthy heart a snap! The key to success is to make small changes in many areas. No matter what you do, remember to take it day by day, and work to sustain your gains.

With that in mind, we’ve compiled 29 heart health tips. Knowledge is power!  Read on to find out what you can do to keep your heart healthy. Only you can love your heart. So start today!

1. Make time for exercise: Exercising 30 to 60 minutes on most days will cut your heart risk in half.

2. Know your heart disease risk: Calculate your risk by plugging your numbers into an online calculator.

3. Never ignore your chest pain:  Pain can be felt anywhere in the chest area, arms, your back and neck.

4. Check your blood pressure: Let the healthy blood pressure number be below 140/90. Both numbers matter!

5. No smoking: Don’t smoke, and ask your loved ones to quit.

6. Aspirin: Should you take aspirin? If you have heart disease, yes! If you don’t have heart disease, then maybe not! Ask your doctor.

7. Moderate exercise: How do you know whether you are exercising moderately? You should able to carry on a light conversation

8. Stress: Is it bad for your heart? Yes, sustained stress is, no matter the source. Learn to control your stress to prevent heart disease.

9. Second hand smoke is dangerous! Public smoking bans in the community have reduced heart attack risk by 20%.

10. Sex: Is your heart healthy enough for sex? Sex has a “heart workload” like climbing two flights of stairs.

11. Dark chocolate: Give your loved ones chocolate as a gift on Valentine’s day! Regular chocolate eaters have less heart and stroke risk!

12. Order wine with your dinner! Moderate intake is associated with lower heart risk. (Consume wisely!)

13. Red or white wine? Is one better for your heart? Wine, beer or spirits all show a similar relationship to lower heart risk.

14. The “Mediterranean diet” is the most heart healthy way to eat. Studies show this diet reduces heart attack risk up to 30%.

15. Mediterranean diet = veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, herbs, spices, fish, seafood, olive oil, poultry, eggs, cheese, yogurt and wine.

16. Take your heart meds fully and faithfully! It’s the only way to get the full benefit of the treatments!

17. Stairs burn twice as many calories as walking. Regular stair climbing reduces your risk of premature death by 15%!

18. The quantified self. Keep moving! Steps per day: Very active >10,000, active >7500, sedentary <5000.

19. Fish eaters have less heart disease! Think about fish as a first choice when eating out- let somebody else do the cooking!

20. Did you know that people who are optimistic have less heart disease? See the bright side- it is truly good for your heart!

21. If you snore, tell your doctor. Snoring can be treated, and could signal risks for your blood pressure and heart rhythm.

22. Want to really know your risk of heart attack? Get a calcium scan of your heart. Accurate, safe, and costs less than dinner for 2!

23. Do you know CPR? Simple! Learn it here and double somebody’s chance of surviving cardiac arrest.

24. Ditch the soda and energy drinks. Please.

25. Coffee lover? For your heart’s sake, it is OK! (But, skip the donut!)

26. Like music? So does your heart! Music listening lowers your heart rate, and blood pressure!

27. Are statin cholesterol drugs safe? For most patients, yes! Unfortunately, over the counter supplements aren’t very helpful.

28. Heart attack or stroke symptoms? Don’t delay! Call 911 immediately. Minutes matter to save lives!

29. Taking vitamins or other supplements for heart disease risk? Be careful- few have little, if any, proven benefit.

Have any questions?

We are here to help! Contact us for more information about heart health or to schedule an appointment. Call us at 202-877-3627.

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