Laguna Cliffs Marriott employee saves life of heart attack victim with automated external defibrillator
By Andrea Swayne
A heart stops beating. A man falls to the ground. Do you panic, or jump up and help? For one man visiting Dana Point on business recently, this series of events became his reality. And thanks to quick thinking coworkers and hotel employees, the answer to the previous question was met with quick action.
Bill Spear, of Huntington Beach, business unit director for Parker Hannifin, was serving as emcee at a Service Award conference at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa on March 5 when he became the victim of a sudden heart attack.
“I remember feeling a little funny but not anything abnormal, just a bit off,” Spear said. “I had just given a speech on stage and walked out into the crowd to talk to people. I went to turn around to sit down and the next thing I remember is waking up on the ground.”
Spear’s coworkers, including Ray Bumpus, Mark Brown and Amber Gilman, along with Patrick Blair (a coworker’s husband) sprang into action, beginning CPR immediately or rushing out of the ballroom to summon help.
James Williams, a loss prevention agent at the hotel, happened to be helping a guest with their luggage right outside the ballroom doors and made the first call to alert staff of the emergency. Williams reached fellow loss prevention agent Jessica Heinsius, who upon hearing the emergency was likely a heart attack, ran to get the hotel’s automated external defibrillator, or AED. While waiting for paramedics to arrive, Williams took control of the situation, clearing the ballroom of its more than 150 guests and ensuring all administering aid to Spear had room to work.
Heinsius arrived with the AED to find Spear still unconscious and with no heartbeat. With a calm and assured demeanor, she powered up the machine, administered a shock, and a few seconds later, Spear regained consciousness.
“He kept saying he was fine and wanted to get up,” Heinsius said. “I, and the others, kept insisting he stay put and basically holding him down.”
“I know that when I woke up, my first words were ‘I’m fine,’ but I had no idea what happened,” Spear recalled. “Then the paramedics came and put me on a gurney and took me to Mission Hospital where I had a stent put in.”
Spear, who describes himself as an avid mountain biker and a very healthy person, said he had no signs or symptoms prior to the attack.
“I was totally shocked,” he said. “I am active and in really good shape. I have low blood pressure, low resting heart rate and good ratio of good to bad cholesterol, but I do have a family history of heart conditions. My dad died of a heart attack at 65. I am 59.”
Heinsius paid a visit to Spear while he was in the hospital to check on him. She said that after getting to know him, she understood his “I’m OK,” response when he first came to in the ballroom.
“He’s the type of guy who was like ‘Alright, I’m back, let’s go,’” she said. “It was great to get to speak with him and meet his wife. I found out he has a daughter my age and that we have something in common, in that we both ride the same mountain bike trails in Aliso. They were very nice and very thankful. It was kind of a surreal experience because he told me that I am the reason he is still alive. He said his doctors told him that, in his case, although helpful to his recovery, CPR only would not have brought him back. He was very lucky that it happened in a place that had an AED.”
Spear was also pleasantly surprised by Heinsius’ visit to the hospital and described her actions as heroic.
“Meeting her was awesome. We got pictures and I gave her a gift and my sincere thanks,” he said. “I was so happy to be able to tell her in person how much I appreciate what she did. I consider myself to be exceptionally lucky that she, and the others, were there when I needed them. The doctor said I’m like the guy that walks away from a plane crash carrying his briefcase, without a scratch on him. I suffered no residual effects and no damage. That AED was what saved my life.”
He also praised paramedics for getting him to the hospital so quickly and Dr. Kulick for performing his successful operation.
Spear was released from Mission Hospital on March 9, with full motor and brain function. Due to the quick response to his heart attack, it is estimated that he was only unconscious for five to six minutes, max.
According to the American Red Cross website, more than 350,000 people a year suffer from cardiac arrest in the United States and AEDs are “the only effective treatment for restoring a regular heart rhythm during sudden cardiac arrest” and “for each minute defibrillation is delayed, the chance of survival is reduced by approximately 10 percent.” The Red Cross also recommends that if at all times Americans were within four minutes of an AED and someone trained to use one, an estimated 50,000 lives per year would be saved in this country.
Heeding this advice, hotel management believes the presence of an AED and staff trained in its use is of utmost importance.
Jeff Kingsbury, director of guest relations at the hotel, said that in order to create a safer environment for guests, as well as employees, the entire loss prevention department is routinely trained to provide first aid/CPR, including the use of AEDs.
“We also offer training to all employees who want training,” Kingsbury said, adding that the hotel is in the process of purchasing a second AED machine. “Even though it was our loss prevention department that reacted this time, anybody who wants to be involved here, can be involved.”
On being called a hero, Heinsius said she doesn’t really feel the term fits her actions.
“Yes, I did help and I did save someone, but it’s not like I did something overly impressive,” she said. “I think it’s just something everyone should have the instinct to do, to help someone, but I realize not everyone does. Most of my friends and my fiancé are all sheriffs’ deputies, so all of them thought it was cool. Most of them have done things like that, so it wasn’t anything uber extraordinary. But here at the hotel, it was a first. I just did what my instincts told me to do.”
Loss Prevention Manager Colin McGinnis also praised Heinsius’ instincts.
“Jessica (Heinsius) is well-trained but definitely has the gut instinct,” McGinnis said. “Everything she’s done in her two years here has been nothing but gut. She looks at the situation and reacts to the situation, whatever it may be, appropriately and in a calm and assertive manner.
A Dana Point resident since 2000, after graduating from Dana Hills High School in 2008, she worked for the Riverside Sheriff’s Department as a correctional deputy where she first received first aid and CPR training. On staff at the hotel for the past two years, she has also been required to keep these certifications current.
McGinnis added that like Heinsius, Williams’ calm demeanor and instinct also played an integral role in the positive outcome of Spear’s heart attack.
“James (Williams) is a retired U.S. Marine and a pastor,” McGinnis said. “He oversaw what was going on in a very calm and effective manner. I was blown away by how effective our department handled the incident, but not surprised at all. We are one of the smallest staff departments here, with only eight members. For us to have the people on staff to be able to react the way they did was phenomenal.”
Jim Samuels, Laguna Cliffs Marriott general manager, said the life-saving actions of his employees were a highlight of his 25-year career in the hotel business.
“It’s nice to know that the time and money we invest to make sure our staff is trained to handle situations like this made the difference in someone’s life,” Samuels said. “To see Mr. Spear alive, happy, healthy and so appreciative, it makes me really proud.”
Wednesday, following Spear’s first day back at work, he returned to the Laguna Cliffs Marriott to reunite with Heinsius, Samuels and other members of the staff who had a hand in his rescue and thank them once again.
At the reunion, Spear reported that as a result of the incident, 40 people had signed up for CPR/AED training at his workplace. He also accepted Samuels’ invitation to attend the hotel’s next training course for free.
“I feel very lucky to be alive,” Spear said. “Bottom line, it happened at the right place, at the right time, with the right people around. Now I am looking forward to being trained, in case I ever find myself in a similar situation where I can help someone.”
Heinsius said that since the incident happened she’s had people say they don’t think they could have done what she did.
“Nonsense,” she said. “I think anybody can do it. Don’t let the fear of messing up prevent you from trying. Getting trained is really easy. It’s all easy to learn and might make a big difference. Training will at least give you the confidence to try to help somebody—maybe even to save a life.”
To find out more about purchasing AEDs and training, visit www.redcross.org.
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