Brian Fowler had a "little angel" watching over him when he recently went into cardiac arrest during a workout at his gym.
Luckily, that "angel," athletic therapist Elise Delorme, and her co-worker, Al Luhowy, were trained in the use of the on-site defibrillator that the business had the foresight to purchase.
Delorme and Luhowy’s use of the defibrillator is credited with helping save Fowler’s life.
"I was in the right place at the right time, with the right people and the right equipment," Fowler said as he visited the gym this week.
Under provincial law, automated external defibrillators (AEDs) must be installed in high-traffic public places such as gyms, arenas, community centres, schools and airports by Jan. 31.
An AED is a portable device that analyzes a patient’s condition and uses electrical shock to effectively reset a heartbeat that is irregular and too fast or too slow.
The devices will be registered with 911 dispatchers so they can guide callers to the nearest machine and help the caller through its proper use.
In general, it’s the facility that’s responsible for buying and installing the devices, but the province provided funding to the Heart and Stroke Foundation so that more than 1,000 free defibrillators could be distributed.
Applications for the free machines began to be accepted on Jan. 7, 2013, and they were all spoken for within 48 hours. Twenty-three were approved for the Brandon area. Those who receive them pay a little less than $200 for the cost of a cabinet.
The foundation also negotiated 30-40 per cent discounts for other defibrillators, while the federal government will provide each recreational hockey arena in Canada with one.
The Frederickson Performance Centre bought its own defibrillator two to three years ago based on the advice of clients who are doctors and one of their athletic therapists.
Co-owners Jim and Jill Frederickson are glad they did — it helped save Fowler’s life.
"I couldn’t imagine not having one now," Jim Frederickson said.
About six weeks after his ordeal, Fowler paid a visit on Wednesday to the 18th Street gym where he had his near-death experience. As he walked in, he gave Delorme a hug and called her his "little angel."
Delorme, an athletic therapist at the gym, was training Fowler, who was in the middle of a regular workout on Nov. 28 when he went into cardiac arrest.
Fowler, 60, had recently started going to the gym, but had no prior indications of any heart problem.
He was doing step-ups with weights, an exercise he had done a number of times before, and only remembers blacking out.
"I did 20 with my left leg and I think I got to about four on my right leg, and that’s all I remember," Fowler said.
"I just noticed that he kind of took a misstep," Delorme said.
"He tried to pick up his leg and it didn’t go. He then kind of just stared blankly at me, and then the next thing I know he collapsed right back on his back."
Delorme admits there was a moment of panic, but then her emergency training as an athletic therapist kicked in.
Jim Frederickson was nearby and Delorme told him to get help.
Frederickson ran to get Luhowy from his office while Delorme told desk manager Kathy Still, who happened to be passing by, to get the defibrillator from under the reception desk.
Meanwhile, Jill Frederickson called 911.
Luhowy arrived at Fowler’s side and he and Delorme tried to find Fowler’s pulse — he didn’t have one — and Luhowy and Delorme started cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until Still arrived with the AED.
As athletic therapists, Luhowy and Delorme were trained in the use of the device, but neither had actually used one on a person before.
But the AED can read the patient’s heart rhythm and issue commands that tell the user what to do.
Luhowy and Delorme attached the AED’s electrodes to Fowler’s chest and it advised a shock.
So they pushed the button and delivered a jolt.
They then continued CPR and Fowler came around a bit, but then his condition worsened again and the AED advised another shock.
Luhowy and Delorme then resumed CPR again and at that point firefighter/paramedics arrived and took over — Fowler had a pulse.
Among the responding firefighter/paramedics was Rob Brown, who praised the efforts of Delorme and Luhowy.
"If it wasn’t for them, the outcome could have been totally different," Brown said.
Alternating between CPR and jolts with their own defibrillator, firefighter/ paramedics delivered three more shocks to Fowler. They also administered cardiac drugs.
Fowler’s heartbeat then recovered and, breathing on his own, he was placed in an ambulance.
Fowler recalls a vision of Luhowy working on him and then a blast of cold air as he was taken out to the ambulance.
He then remembers waking up in Brandon hospital and being surrounded by doctors and family.
He was told he’d had a cardiac arrest, and was flown to Winnipeg and taken to St. Boniface General Hospital for further tests.
Those tests showed that his artery was blocked and it was determined that at some point previously, unknown to him, he’d had a so-called "silent" heart attack.
A small defibrillator was surgically implanted in his chest to start his heart if it stops again, and Fowler returned home after a hospital stay of about a week.
The Fowler Hyundai owner is now back at work, and says he’ll return to the gym once he gets doctor approval.
Naturally, he’s now a big fan of defibrillators and so is his family — in fact, even before Fowler left the hospital, family members ordered a machine for the car dealership. It was in place by the time Fowler returned to Brandon.
Studies show that if a defibrillator is used on a patient within one minute of collapse, the chance of starting their heart again is 90 per cent.
Brandon Professional Firefighters/Paramedics Association president Wade Ritchie adds that with each minute of delayed response, the chance of survival falls by 10 per cent.
The quick reaction of gym staff and the on-site defibrillator was crucial to Fowler’s survival, Ritchie said, given the firefighter/paramedic response time of about five to seven minutes.
Jill Frederickson said she doesn’t want to think about what would have happened if the gym didn’t have an AED on site. She said every business should have one, regardless of type.
"I think every single business should have one," she said. "You’re dealing with the general public. You don’t know who is going to come through those doors."
The gym bought its defibrillator for $2,000 to $3,000.
"It’s a minimal investment for something that could completely, 100 per cent, save someone’s life," Jill said.
Following Fowler’s ordeal, the Fredericksons ordered a defibrillator for their yoga studio at Shoppers Mall and had it shipped overnight.
Other business owners who are gym clients have also ordered defibrillators for their businesses after hearing what happened.
City firefighter/paramedics say Fowler’s case was one of four recent cardiac arrest cases in which early CPR and use of a defibrillator helped save a life.
In two of those cases, the defibrillator used was stored on-site as opposed to one used by emergency responders.
Emergency responders hope more defibrillators will help avoid tragedies and make for more happy endings like Fowler’s.
Delorme was clearly pleased to see Fowler chatting and smiling during his recent visit.
"It’s really good to see him like this," she said.