Jerry and Lisa Kertesz

Jerry and Lisa Kertesz

Jerry Kertesz first learned Hands-Only CPR at his local library in Tucson, Arizona. His wife Lisa had seen a blurb about it in the paper and the couple decided to give it a try.

A few months later, Jerry underwent training a second time, this time as part of a three-day sales conference for his employer, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. He figured CPR was a good thing to know. He never imagined he’d have to use it.

Three weeks later, Jerry used Hands-Only CPR to save Lisa.

On April 9, 2014, Lisa woke to use the restroom. She’d been diagnosed with pneumonia and had felt tired with difficulty breathing for a couple weeks.

The short trip across the room left Lisa struggling to catch her breath. Crawling back into bed, she asked her husband to take her somewhere.

The couple began getting ready to go to the hospital.

“I was brushing my teeth and looked over, and Lisa was gone,” Jerry said.

Jerry ran over to Lisa and saw she wasn’t breathing. He shook her and shouted, but got no response. Lisa had suffered sudden cardiac arrest.

“I knew it was deadly serious,” he said. “I knew absolutely that I was going to lose Lisa if I couldn’t do CPR properly.”

Drawing from his training, Jerry initiated Hands-Only CPR, administering chest compressions fast and hard, stopping only to call 911 and again about five minutes later to open the door for the paramedics.

Paramedics took over and continued CPR, getting Lisa’s heart pumping again, only to have it stop four more times on the way to Tucson Medical Center.

At the hospital, doctors discovered Lisa had a bilateral pulmonary embolism, a sudden blockage in an artery to the lungs. The potentially deadly blockage is usually caused by a blood clot that develops in a vein deep in the body, called deep vein thrombosis. Part of the clot breaks off and then travels to the lungs.

Doctors put Lisa into an induced coma and used an experimental pulmonary embolism treatment to break apart the clots using catheters in her groin to administer a special medication called tPA that is sometimes used in stroke patients.

Lisa was awakened from the coma after four days and was released from the hospital a week later. She continues to take a blood thinner, but doesn’t have any lingering side effects.

Doctors aren’t certain why Lisa, then 53, had a pulmonary embolism, but they were clear about what helped save her life.

“Every doctor told us that Lisa wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t done Hands-Only CPR,” said Jerry.

Cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death, with more than 326,000 out-of-hospital cases occurring each year in the United States, according to the American Heart Association’s 2015 statistics report. CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival, according to the AHA.

Unfortunately, most Americans feel helpless to act during a cardiac emergency because they do not know how to administer CPR or they are afraid of hurting the victim.

An estimated 70 percent of cardiac arrests occur in the home or a residential setting, meaning the life a person saves with CPR is likely to be a friend or relative.

Hands-Only CPR has been shown to be just as effective as conventional mouth-to-mouth CPR and has just two easy steps: If a teen or adult suddenly collapses, first call 911 and then push hard and fast in the center of the chest at least 100 times per minute, or to the beat of the disco song “Stayin’ Alive.”

“I never thought about Hands-Only CPR or the need to save another human being,” Jerry said. “For that person to be the most important person in my life, it was humbling.”

The experience inspired Jerry to become an advocate for CPR training, motivating colleagues and community members to get trained and train their own family and friends by sharing his story. The reaction he’s gotten has been overwhelming, as coworkers share their own stories of administering CPR or being motivated by his story to train their own families.

“The outpouring of love and support has been amazing,” he said.

Anthem offered Jerry and his colleagues Hands-Only CPR training as part of its support of the AHA’s Hands-Only CPR campaign and mobile training tour.

Through a new $7.8 million grant from Anthem Foundation, the AHA campaign aims to train nearly nine million people via its mobile tour, online training videos and kiosks during the next five years.

“This can happen to anyone, anywhere,” Jerry said. “What’s more powerful than the ability to save someone else’s life?”

Photo courtesy of Jerry Kertesz