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At Rinat, AEDs and Presence of Mind Saved a Life

Sometimes it’s presence, not absence, that can make the heart grow fonder. Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck learned three reasons about how just “being there” on time saved a man’s life.

Reason one: Rinat’s Automatic Electronic Defibrillator (AED), a device used to shock a person’s heart during cardiac arrest, has not been used even once since shul member Dr. Jay Gross worked to have it funded and installed some 10 years ago. Many shul members may not even know that the box on the wall in the central lobby adjacent the washing stations houses the shul’s AED.

Dr. Gross brings a great deal of experience to the value and use of AEDs. He is Professor of Clinical Medicine at Einstein College of Medicine and Director of Pacemaker Services at Montefiore Medical Center. He surgically implants internal defibrillators in patients who might have a history of cardiac arrest-related scarring or heart attacks.

He told JLNJ that when the shul first obtained the AED, he offered lectures on its usage to the general membership, a group which includes probably about 20 physicians as members.

This leads us to Reason two: One of the doctors who daven at Rinat is anesthesiologist Dr. Seth Landa, a morning minyan regular. He practices at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson. Landa was a couple of minutes early that Thursday, Feb. 26 morning, when he entered the shul. Before he had a chance to even put on his tefillin, he saw a man unconscious, lying face down on the floor with his face bloodied. The man, who has requested anonymity for this article, had passed out, his head hitting the bima and breaking his nose. Quickly, 911 was called. In the short time before Teaneck’s emergency personnel arrived, Dr. Landa searched for a pulse and didn’t find one. The man was turned over on to his back.

“I started chest compression,” Dr. Landa said. “And I asked for the defibs.”

But before anyone went to utilize the shul’s AED, a first-responding Teaneck police officer produced one.

And that takes us to Reason Three:

“We put the pads on, and sure enough the machine said it was preparing to shock. He must have been in a ventricular tachycardia (heart beat exceeding normal range). The machine shocked him and we continued the CPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation).

“Then someone brought in Rinat’s first aid kit that has an oxygen tank and a mask with a bag.”

The man, who Dr. Landa said was in his mid-50s, “came around.” Landa has seen him since back at shul davening at Rinat.

For Landa, that morning justified every advanced life saving course he has taken over his career.

“I’m an anesthesiologist,” he said. “I’ve been in life and death experiences. But having this happen outside of the hospital in this setting was incredible to me. I was completely blown away. Now I’m grateful for any courses I’ve taken. The first thing that happens is this paralysis, then your mind clicks in gear and you do what you have to do. I was blown away by this. Holy smokes I’m thankful to Hashem I got up earlier enough and got to shul.”

He figures he walked into shul at 6:29 a.m. The ambulance arrived, he said, about 6:45. The victim, a father of two, was transported to Holy Name Hospital where he regained his consciousness.

The man, who lives near Rinat, told the Jewish Link that he has absolutely no memory of going to shul. He said he remembers leaving his house for the short walk, but he doesn’t even remember crossing West Englewood Avenue.

“I was losing oxygen,” he said. “And I had no idea while I walking that I was losing even more oxygen. I didn’t have a chest pain. I have no memory of falling face first and breaking my nose,” he said. “I was later told that Dr. Landa checked for my pulse, and when he didn’t find one, he started CPR. It also took one minute for the police officer to bring in the defibrillator.”

The man, who is rehabbing from the incident, said with a smile in his voice that he didn’t necessarily fit the profile for a cardiac arrest victim. He said he doesn’t overeat, never smokes, exercises and even had a clear physical two weeks prior to the cardiac arrest.

But what the man also said was that he lost his father to cardiac arrest when his dad was 52. More recently and sadly, his brother, 49, got up one morning, got in the car, and died of a heart attack.

Dr. Gross said that probably the “vast majority are oblivious to the AED’s presence at Rinat and its use.” The doctor compared the AED to an expensive fire extinguisher. You want it to work when it is needed.

“Over the past couple of weeks, there have been reminders (about the AED). We want people to know we have an AED and where it is located. We want to reinforce the idea of what it is for.”

He added that everything that had to happen for the good happened to save the victim’s life. “Dr. Landa walked in as things were happening. He performed CPR. Someone called 911 and the police officer brought in an AED.”

So it wasn’t the shul’s AED that was used. But still, if this incident doesn’t bring attention to that life-saving on appliance on the wall, what will?

But Dr. Gross wants his fellow congregants and others to know even more. He told JLNJ that heart disease is still the number one killer in this country. And if someone goes into cardiac arrest outside of a hospital, that person’s chances of survival are only 5-10 percent. When a person goes into cardiac arrest, minutes become the difference between life and death. Only half of those victims who are treated after six minutes of cardiac arrest survive. After nine minutes without treatment, almost no one survives, he said.

Where AEDs see more work are in large public settings such as airports or casinos. But even with rapid CPR and rapid shock to reverse the cardiac arrhythmia, and the survival rate is still five to 10 percent.

In a shul setting, he said that the chance of someone noticing a victim in arrest and then calling EMS raises the chances of survival. If an AED is not administered in three minutes, there is a 20 percent risk of brain death. At eight minutes, that risk goes up to 70 percent. At 10 minutes without intervention, almost no one survives, according to Dr. Gross.

“Going to shul saved my husband’s life,” the man’s wife said.

“He was there and he flatlined (no pulse). But Seth Landa and the police were working on him within a minute,” she continued. “They saved his life.”

Since then, the man said he has been able to see the good in everyone and everything.

“All I can see is the tremendous good in the way everyone who helped save my life responded,” he said. “When people ask me `how are you feeling?’ I simply say thank God, I’m feeling.”

“Everyone who was involved was spot-on in their judgements,” he added. “That’s what I call a nes (miracle).”

By Phil Jacobs

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