Back to Life

Thanks to quick-thinking good Samaritans, a portable defibrillator and the use of CPR, Shawn White lives

In February, when Shawn White of Bernville attended his daughter’s basketball tournament at Brandywine Middle School, he knew the day would be exciting. He just didn’t realize how exciting.

“I just wasn’t feeling well,” the 44-year-old recalls. “I got hot and flustered, and my chest felt tight. The last couple of minutes of the game, I was feeling uncomfortable. After the game was over, I felt it go up into my neck and throat. I knew something was really wrong.”

As he stepped out of the gym and into the hallway, he motioned for his wife to call 911. Then he fell to the floor. White was experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.

‘Someone’s down!’

Meanwhile, Kerry Snyder, a middle school teacher and basketball coach of the team that had just played White’s daughter’s team also was coming into the hall. “It was very crowded. One game was just starting, one just ended when I heard someone yell, ‘Someone’s down, someone’s having a heart attack!’” Snyder says. “I turned to my other coach and said, ‘It’s a school; they have to have an AED,’ and he went to grab the AED (automated external defibrillator). I went to see how I could help.”

He found White on the floor, right in front of the gym doors. Two people were with him, each trying to find a pulse. Snyder, who as a teacher and coach is required to take annual cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training, jumped into action.

“I thought of chest compressions. Immediately, all the training was there. I did hands-only CPR. I was singing ‘Stayin’ Alive’ – even the ah-ah parts – the whole time,” he says. “I did that until the AED showed up.”

Another dad, Shawn Habakus, DMD, began following the voice commands issued by the AED. He attached the sticky pads to White’s chest. “The AED said, ‘Shock indicated. Stand back,’” Habakus recalls.

It shocked White, then the AED said “Continue compressions.”

Snyder continued pressing. “I did 30 chest compressions, and he let out two breaths. I continued another round of compressions, and at the end of that, the AED read his heart rhythm, and said, ‘No shock needed.’ I looked at his wife and daughters standing just a few feet away and said, ‘We have a pulse.’” As paramedics from Topton ambulance prepared to transport him to Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Cedar Crest, White was already able to speak.

“The combination of chest-only compressions and the AED saved his life,” says cardiologist Jeffrey Gordon, MD, with LVPG Cardiology.

The electrical side of sudden cardiac arrest

A sudden cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack. A heart attack is caused by a blockage. Sudden cardiac arrests are typically caused by an electrical problem within the heart, which was the case with White. During sudden cardiac arrest, his heart was quivering, not beating. “It was not doing its job to pump blood,” Gordon says.

With hands-only CPR, Snyder was able to help circulate White’s blood, says cardiologist J. Patrick Kleaveland, MD, with LVPG Cardiology. Even though Snyder didn’t do any mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, “With pumping on the chest, you get some air movement like breathing,” Kleaveland says.

An AED not only restarts the heart but gets the heart to beat rhythmically again. “The AED does a hard reset for the heart,” Gordon says. “It interrupted Shawn’s arrhythmia and allowed his normal electrical system to fire up and start again.”

These days, White’s heart is functioning just fine. While at LVH–Cedar Crest, he had three stents placed in his arteries. In addition, they inserted an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which is attached to his heart. Should White ever experience an arrhythmia again, the ICD will do just what that AED did. “A defibrillator doesn’t prevent an arrhythmia,” says Gordon, “but if he has another life-threatening arrhythmia, the device will detect it and then shock his heart out of it, potentially saving his life.”