When Alan Nelson began teaching a class in the pool at Franciscan Omni Health-Chesterton on the evening of December 4, he thought he was in perfect health.
He had run more than 500 races, done a four-hour, 7.5 mile swim in Lake Michigan, and was a power lifter.
“You name it, I do it,” said Nelson, who is a part-time instructor at the facility. “They call me ‘Mr. Fitness’ around there.”
But 20 minutes into teaching the class, the 66-year-old started feeling light-headed. He remembers falling backward, and remembers losing consciousness right before his body hit the pool deck.
“I was in cardiac arrest,” he says. “I didn’t know it, but I had a defective heart valve since birth. When you have a cardiac arrest, your heart stops. Only five percent of people are survivors. If you don’t get help immediately, you’re dead.”
As he fell, students and co-workers rushed to his aid. They began CPR, and used the Automatic External Defibrillator to help resuscitate him.
“We grabbed the AED and ran to the pool deck,” said Stephanie Lambert, Customer Care Supervisor at the facility. They dried him off, applied the pads to his chest, and the machine shocked him a few times. They also performed CPR.
“While we were doing CPR, I noticed he was turning bluish purple,” she says.
By the time paramedics arrived a few minutes later, he was in and out of consciousness and he was taken to the hospital.
“He is so fit. He preaches wellness and he personal trains. We’re used to Alan being the person who swims a few miles on his lunch break,” says Sarah Hott, who is a group exercise supervisor at the facility. “When I found out it was him, I couldn’t believe it.”
The facility has had an AED since it opened, but there has never been need for it to be used before, Lambert explains. However, the staff had gone through its quarterly training on resuscitation and using the device within the previous week.
“You prepare for it and you talk about it, but to have it actually happening is a different thing,” Lambert says.
Hott said she was proud of the way her colleagues worked together to save the life of their friend.
“The fact that everyone was so helpful and so capable, it was amazing,” she said. “It reminded us that all the training we do is completely relevant and necessary at all times. It was a wake-up call.”
Six days after his life was saved, he underwent open heart surgery, and his faulty valve was replaced. By February 1, he was back at work.
“If it would’ve happened in my car, at home, or anywhere else, there wouldn’t have been the people or facilities available to save me,” says Nelson, who recently celebrated his 67th birthday. “That’s how fortunate I was.”