By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
In January 2013, Cory Wilson, a junior at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, was sitting in a morning lecture when he suddenly slumped in his chair and then fell to the floor.
His classmates thought he was joking, pretending to be asleep. But when the 21-year-old didn’t get up, they realized something was wrong.
“No one knew what to do,” said Lisa Wilson, Cory’s mom. “No one imagined it could be his heart.”
Someone called 911 and a classmate who had once been a lifeguard started CPR.
A university security officer quickly arrived, but he left the automated external defibrillator, or AED, in the car. He left to get it, but hearing the ambulance, went to direct it to the scene instead.
The Wilsons, who live about 45 minutes away in Savannah, arrived at the hospital to find the waiting room filled with anxious classmates and friends.
“We knew it was very bleak, but because Cory had been incredibly healthy, we had hope,” she said.
Cory’s heart never restarted.
While doctors weren’t sure what brought on the abnormal heart rhythm that caused Cory’s heart to stop, they told Wilson and her husband, Ken, that his survival odds might have been better if an AED had been used sooner.
Wilson now keeps an AED in her car.
“I don’t know that an AED at that moment would have saved Cory, but I do know that it could have increased his chance of being here today,” said Wilson, who is a school nurse and longtime CPR instructor.
AEDs are portable devices that deliver an electric shock to stop a chaotic heart rhythm and restore a normal beat. Research shows that the chances of survival decrease by 7 percent to 10 percent for every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation.
Yet fewer than half of people who go into cardiac arrest outside of a hospital receive CPR, according to the AHA. AEDs are used in only 2 percent of cases before paramedics arrive.
As Cory’s family and friends grieved, they learned more about the emergency response, including the failure to bring an AED to the scene.
Working with Georgia Southern, the Wilsons pushed for expanded AED access throughout campus and implementation of emergency response practices. The university now has more than 176 AEDs.
“Cory’s death was a tragedy, and our family has been devastated. But we are trying to move forward,” said Wilson, whose daughter Morgan is now a senior at Georgia Southern.
The family has also worked to expand CPR training and AED access throughout their area, sharing Cory’s story with community groups and government officials at the local, state and national level. They’ve participated in fundraisers such as the AHA’s Heart Walk and, in memory of their son and with help from friends, launched an annual baseball tournament, which has raised more than $40,000 to place AEDs in area facilities.
Wilson has provided CPR and AED training communitywide, including at the school where she works and the Kappa Alpha fraternity, where Cory was a member.
“If you want to learn CPR, I’ll teach you,” Wilson said. “I may be the one who goes down, or it may be my husband or my daughter, and I want anyone who is around us to know what to do.”
About a week after a training session at a local military base, Wilson learned that someone she had trained provided Hands-Only CPR to a man who later required triple bypass surgery.
“Cory’s story has already saved lives,” Wilson said. “Even in death, he is making a difference.”
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Photos and video courtesy of Lisa Wilson