By Ricardo Garcia-Moreno
I was lying on a stretcher, unable to talk or move as I went into full cardiac arrest the afternoon of February 4, 2018. My heart had stopped beating for approximately 20 minutes, and I was not breathing when emergency medical personnel loaded me into an ambulance. As I faded in and out of life over the next few hours, all I could think about were my wife, Ana; and our two sons, Emilio, 7, and Adrian, 5; and how the boys would grow up without their dad if I died that Super Bowl Sunday.
But my will to survive—and the determination of several strangers who knew cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR—kept me alive so I can be here today with my family.
I was enjoying time with Ana and her family at a restaurant that February afternoon in Las Vegas. We were having a great time eating, having drinks, and watching the Super Bowl, and then I told my wife that I was feeling dizzy. Less than a minute later, I lost consciousness and my head fell like a load of bricks on the table.
My sister-in-law saw the blank stare on my face and lunged over the table to help me, yelling for others to call 911. The wait staff came over and helped lower me to the floor, where a waiter, Rolando Ramirez, began administering CPR. Ramirez happened to be a trained doctor from Cuba who had administered CPR to more than a dozen people during his tenure at the restaurant.
A doctor who was having lunch rushed over to help, and then another medically trained person. Together, the three of them kept my heart pumping through CPR for 15-20 minutes until the ambulance arrived. My heart had to be defibrillated five times—four times in the ambulance alone.
I regained consciousness in the ambulance and remembered hearing sirens and wearing an oxygen mask. I mistakenly thought I had been run over while walking on the Vegas Strip. But then I remembered we had been in a restaurant having dinner. I couldn’t figure out when and how we left the restaurant and how I had been hit by a car. Nothing made sense.
In the emergency room, two nurses were prepping me for an angiogram. I thought I was paralyzed because I could hear them clearly talking about me, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t open my eyes and I couldn’t talk. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had been sedated and intubated. I thought I was dying. I thought my soul was detaching from my body, and I felt helpless.
And then I became angry and thought to myself that I was going to fight to wake up. I was not going to leave my family behind. I lost consciousness again.
I regained consciousness 48 hours after arriving at the hospital. As it turns out, I spent a full week in the hospital recovering from the ordeal and from a surgery to implant a defibrillator in my chest once the cardiologists figured out the reason why I had gone into cardiac arrest.
Evangelist of CPR
Unbeknownst to me, I had a genetic heart condition called Brugada syndrome, which is characterized by abnormal electrocardiogram, or ECG, findings and an increased risk of sudden cardiac death. I also learned that this condition had killed my maternal grandfather when he was about my age (48). For years, my family and I erroneously thought that he had died from a massive heart attack.
I believe it’s a miracle that I survived. God was looking after me and sent a lot of angels— including the Good Samaritans at the restaurant, the paramedics, and the hospital staff—to help me survive. If they hadn’t been there, I would not be here today.
I am living proof that learning CPR can save lives.
The experience has changed my life in a number of ways. For one, I now evangelize the importance of learning CPR. With the support of Haynes and Boone, I helped arrange CPR training classes in October and November at the firm’s Houston office. About 60 employees will get certified during the classes. I hope other Haynes and Boone offices will follow suit.
I know God has a purpose for me—foremost, to be a good husband and father and help raise my boys to be good men. And, if along the way I can help or be a positive influence to others in their lives somehow, including by telling my story to others and encouraging them to take a CPR class, then I am fulfilling that purpose.
I plan to issue a challenge to Houston-area law firms to host CPR classes in February in conjunction with American Heart Month. I have also been invited to speak to other companies, such as BP, where I will be kicking off its health and wellness campaign in Houston on November 7. I am happy to speak to groups as an ambassador for this cause.
According to the American Heart Association, or AMA, hundreds of thousands of Americans experience sudden cardiac arrest each year outside of the hospital—most in their own homes. About 90 percent of these incidents are fatal.
Appropriate bystander behavior can triple the chances of survival. However, CPR rates among bystanders are bleak. In Houston, for example, only 51 percent of people who suffer a sudden cardiac arrest receive CPR from bystanders. Houston has the best rate among Texas’ big cities, while Dallas has the worst rate, at 33 percent.
The AMA hopes to educate Texans about the importance of knowing CPR and symptoms of a heart attack with activities like Heart Walks, which are taking place around the nation through November. More than 30 Haynes and Boone employees participated in a Heart Walk in downtown Dallas in September.
This post was originally published on the Haynes and Boone blog and has been edited and republished with permission.
Ricardo Garcia-Moreno is a partner in Haynes and Boone and practices corporate law with an emphasis on cross-border mergers and acquisitions, energy, securities law compliance, and corporate governance. He has more than 22 years of experience representing U.S., European, and Latin American clients in domestic and international transactions involving mergers, acquisitions and divestitures, investments, joint ventures, and capital markets transactions.