Judy and Doug Cushing were out for a walk April 4. But this time, something wasn't right. As the Lake Oswego couple weaved through the West Lake Neighborhood, past cul-de-sacs where hardly any people were present, they reached West Lake Drive when Doug stumbled like he had tripped over something on the path. He fell face forward.
"If you're our age, most people are so embarrassed if they trip or fall and get right up and brush themselves up and pretend it didn't happen," Judy said. "But he wasn't moving."
Doug had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest — what the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine calls a "disturbance in the electrical activity of the heart that causes it to stop beating"— and lived to tell the tale.
According to NASEM, about 395,000 cases of cardiac arrest occur every year in the U.S. outside of the hospital, with less than a 6% survival rate.
The survival rate increases significantly when a bystander takes action, and luckily in this case several people stopped to help before emergency personnel arrived on scene.
Larry Zurcher, a Lake Oswego School District Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) teacher and middle school cross country and track coach, was out on a run when he noticed the couple needed help. Zurcher knew the couple from church and immediately jumped in to administer CPR.
"I grew up as a lifeguard and so we were trained in first-aid CPR from that," said Zurcher, adding that as a teacher and coach, he also has to be certified in CPR, though he's never administered compressions on a living person before. "Everything just jumped in place … Everybody that was there did exactly what needed to be done … Everybody played a part. It was good that I had the skills and I was in the right spot and was able to help out."
Doug was taken to the hospital and put into a medically induced coma to have heart stent surgery.
"It was just God's miracle that Larry was running by," Judy said. "It was just such a combination of angels who really really saved Doug's life."
The hardest part for Judy and her family while Doug was in a medically induced coma was not being able to sit beside Doug, talk to him and touch him due to COVID-19 related restrictions.
Judy and her children were able to talk to Doug through an iPad while he was in a coma.
"We felt like it would be good for him to hear our voices," she said. "We've been married a long time and he's the love of my life. In my mind that (death) was not acceptable."
During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital visitors are restricted unless the patient is going to die.
At one point, Judy was going to be allowed to see Doug, as his odds looked grim — his kidneys and liver were both failing.
But Doug took a turn for the better and his vital signs improved.
During his hospital visit, staff had to take extreme measures to protect him against COVID-19. He was moved a couple times and tested twice.
Judy said she appreciates the hospital staff's effort for being kind and sensitive to them during this tough time, despite the additional safety protocol required by hospitals during the pandemic.
"Both the pressure from a medical standpoint, a professional standpoint on our health care workers but also the emotional strife that they go through to try to do their job, help the patient and help the family, it's just more than people can bear," Judy said.
Doug was released to a rehabilitation facility to gain his strength back before being sent home mid-April. Since then he has been taking walks and participating in at-home therapy.
Doug said it was all a fog when he woke up after his surgery and he had no memory of the incident, but he is feeling much better now.
The couple said that the cardiac arrest came as a surprise, though Doug's father had heart issues.
"I knew I hadn't been (on) a perfect heart-healthy diet but I definitely watch my diet," said Doug, adding that there were no prior incidents that would have indicated he would experience a cardiac arrest.
Doug's recovery process is still underway.
"It takes a village and our Lake Oswego community and providers were just absolutely amazing," Judy said.
People left food on their porch, purchased groceries, delivered medications — whatever was needed. The couple then wiped down the items and took every precaution to ensure they did not contract COVID-19 during this vital recovery period.
"When you go online and read about sudden cardiac death and the percentage of successful people who suffered (and) survive it, as I've told someone, you do have to look at it and say 'Ok, having made it, should I be thinking not so much about what do I wanna do, but is there something else I should be doing for humanity?'" Doug said.
Andy Owens, with Lake Oswego Fire, was on Doug's call and stresses the importance of bystander CPR. Owens said without it, Doug's outcome may have been different.
"I think it's one of the biggest reasons why we're seeing higher cardiac arrest saves in the city," he said. "They (Judy and Doug) came by the fire station last week and it's rewarding in our job when we are trained to do something, we do it and it goes well … and there's a positive outcome like this; we don't always get to see the impact on peoples' lives.
"That's really about the greatest reward we can get as firefighters."
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