SAN RAMON — Having people nearby who knew what to do, and how to do it quickly, may have saved the life of 10-year-old Brett Douglas.
Brett, who had a pre-existing heart condition, went into cardiac arrest and collapsed near his home Sept. 20 while playing on his scooter.
Brett's 13-year-old brother Christopher wasted no time. He ran for their dad, David Douglas, who immediately began cardiopulmonary resuscitation with the aid of neighbor Jeff Pelz. Then, Christopher called 911, said Brett's mom, Stacey Douglas.
When paramedics from the San Ramon Valley Fire Department arrived, they shocked Brett with a defibrillator and then transported him quickly — with traffic help from police — to San Ramon Regional Medical Center for further treatment.
It was the sort of team effort to cut cardiac arrest deaths that San Ramon is striving for. And, just a few hours later, they did it all over again.
Having one recovery from a cardiac arrest, is pretty good for the fire department: Nationwide, the chances of surviving cardiac arrest are only 5 percent to 6 percent. But, just hours after Brett's rescue, the department rescued a second cardiac arrest patient, again in San Ramon.
"We were lucky that some people have the training," said Stacey Douglas, a paramedic who wasn't home at the time her son was stricken. "I'm happy things turned out the way they did."
About 2 a.m. Sept. 21, a 47-year-old man's heart stopped beating. San Ramon police arrived to his home first and used automatic external defibrillators, or AEDs — carried in every city patrol car — to get his heart beating again. Paramedics treated him and took him to San Ramon Regional Medical Center.
"The people make this (story) unusual," Swartzell said, adding that they especially don't see many pediatric cardiac arrests. "The outcomes are usually poor and because we had those links it worked well.
Swartzell said good outcomes are based on effective the "chain of survival" is: Getting effective CPR and AED administered to the patient, getting paramedics to the scene quickly and getting the patient to the hospital quickly.
The moral of the story: The immediate use of defibrillators and the administration of CPR help saves lives, San Ramon Valley Fire Capt. Andy Swartzell said.
The department is trying to get more people involved in the effort, working to get the San Ramon Valley designated as a HeartSafe Community, as defined by the American Heart Association.
Their goal is to put defibrillators in every school — due to finances, there are still 12 San Ramon Valley schools without the $1,500 defibrillators — and to have at least 10 percent of residents trained in CPR and in how to use the defibrillators.
San Ramon police have had defibrillators in patrol cars the last four years, police Chief Scott Holder said. All officers are trained on how to use them.
Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops beating. Many people die of cardiac arrest naturally in old age, said Dr. Joe Toscano, an emergency physician at San Ramon Regional. The heart just gives out. It's rare for younger patients' hearts to stop beating suddenly, but it's a condition that can be fixed.
"You can't correct an 85-year-old heart," Toscano said. "A 47-year-old who has a heart attack and a 10-year-old that has a heart condition that makes them go into cardiac arrest, you can help that heart."
The most effective things to be done are timely CPR and the use of defibrillators, Toscano said.
"Time is absolutely of the essence," he said. The longer patients go without CPR or a shock, the chances of survival drops and the risk of permanent damage — if the patient survives — increases.
That's why it's important for as many people to be CPR certified and know how to use defibrillators, said, Dr. Kishor Avasarala, a pediatiac cardiologist at Children's Hospital Oakland.
Avasarala said learning takes a few hours and gives those who are certified a sense of "I can save somebody if something happens "... And I think the more people who are certified, that good will be the outcome in these cases," he said.
Stacey Douglas said she, too, wants to increase awareness about the importance of being certified. She said she wants to work with the schools to require teachers to be certified. She's also planning a block party to help make people aware of the need for CPR certification.
"The human life is so tender as it is," she said. "What can we do to preserve it?"
Reach Sophia Kazmi at 925-847-2122.
For CPR class information visit the San Ramon Valley Fire
Protection District Web site: www.firedepartment.org or call 925-838-6600.
Stacey Douglas, of San Ramon, talks Friday about efforts to save her son, Brett Douglas, 10, who went into cardiac arrest Sept. 20. Quick administration of CPR and use of a defibrillator helped.