Doctor in Right Place at the Right Time

September 16, 2015

Life Saved at Area YMCA

“I was half through a 30 minute maximum incline (on an elliptical machine), and I felt good,” Dennis Brubaker, now 47, of Treasure Lake, DuBois, said about his workout at the YMCA at Treasure Lake on a winter’s day this year.

On that day, things changed for him in seconds.

“I felt something was wrong. I wasn’t in pain,” he said. “I was unbalanced...there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t stop and regroup.”

Brubaker was in cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest is the abrupt loss of heart function. It occurs instantly or shortly after symptoms appear. Each year, more than 420,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of the hospital in the United States, according to the American Heart Association.

It is not a heart attack which is caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart. Cardiac arrest is caused when the heart's electrical system malfunctions. In cardiac arrest, the heart suddenly stops working properly and death can occur within minutes after the heart stops.

Cardiac arrest may be reversed if CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is performed and a defibrillator is used to shock the heart and restore a normal heart rhythm within a few minutes.

Brubaker was lucky when his occurred.

Working out just feet away was Dr. Brian Gates, an emergency medicine physician at Penn Highlands DuBois. 

Gates and Brubaker got to the Treasure Lake YMCA gym at the same time. Both men know of each other, but they didn’t know each other very well. They had seen each other around the hospital because Brubaker works as a security guard at PH DuBois. 

Gates saw that Brubaker was on the elliptical machine and working out at a pretty high intensity. Gates was on the weight lifting machine. Both men were doing their routines.

But from the corner of his eye, Gates saw Brubaker fall off the machine and pass out. “He was lying on his back on the floor,” Gates said. “I went over to find him unresponsive.”

Brubaker was not breathing adequately. He was without a pulse. “I started CPR immediately,” Gates said. He told someone to call 911 and for someone else to grab the AED – the automated external defibrillator. 

AEDs are small devices with a built-in computer to check a victim’s heart rhythm through adhesive electrodes. The computer calculates whether defibrillation is needed. If it is, a recorded voice tells the rescuer to press the shock button on the AED. This shock momentarily stuns the heart and stops all activity. It gives the heart the chance to resume beating effectively.

There were two other people at the gym exercising across the room and a woman working behind the desk. “Everyone came to assist,” Gates said. 

At one point, Gates had one man take over compressions while he put the AED pads on Brubaker’s chest. After the AED determined a shockable rhythm was present, the shock was delivered. He did compressions for 10-15 seconds more before Brubaker was conscious.

“It was obvious he had regained a pulse,” Gates said. Shortly after, emergency medical services were there.

“It shook me up,” Brubaker said. “Thank God he was there,” he said of Gates. “I thanked him 1,000 times.” He also couldn’t imagine what would have happened if he was at home alone with his children. “My wife said I have an angel watching over me,” he said.

Brubaker said he had no idea he had inherited heart problems. He thought he probably didn’t eat right, but he worked out regularly and thought it should balance his bad habits.
He’s never been sickly, and he felt good that day. 

“Rapid intervention and the AED defibrillator are what saved him,” Gates said. “Thank God they have an AED machine at the gym.”  Without the AED, chances for a full recovery would have decreased.

When Brubaker left the Y, he was stable and talking.  

After a trip to the Emergency Department at PH DuBois, Brubaker was sent to the Catheterization Lab for a possible blockage. However, a MRI showed that he had a heart attack in the past and didn’t know it. His heart had damage, and a defibrillator was put in to shock the heart back into rhythm should it ever go out again.

“I have a new perspective on life,” Brubaker said. “I say don’t sweat the small things.” He avoids stress as best he can, and Brubaker and his entire family have changed their diets to be more health-conscious. He also quit chewing tobacco after 32 years as tobacco can increase the risk for heart problems.

“You don’t expect this to happen, and it does,” Gates said. “I am glad everything turned out ok,” Gates said. 

Is there a lesson to be learned? Gates encourages everyone – especially those who work with the public – to be trained in Basic Life Support through the American Heart Association or CPR. It can be lifesaving. “You never know when something like this can occur,” Gates said. “Everyone should be prepared.”

And hopefully, he said, public places will get AEDs that are easily accessible. AEDs are safe to use by anyone who’s been trained to operate them.