0701  - in front of sculpture

With their years of experience working with medical emergencies, Butch and Susie Gibbs knew Butch was in grave danger the night he started having chest pains.

Susie took his blood pressure and found it was dangerously low. She called the hospital where she works as an emergency room nurse – about 20 miles from their home in Humeston, Iowa – to request an ambulance and report Butch’s chest pain.

“We figured by the time the ambulance got there, the pain would be gone,” said Butch, who is an EMT.

As soon as Susie hung up the phone, Butch fell backward onto the couch; he was in sudden cardiac arrest. Susie quickly rolled him onto the floor and began CPR.

First responders arrived within three minutes and quickly began using an automated external defibrillator (AED) to shock Butch’s heart back into its normal rhythm. The first shock came a minute after their arrival; in all, it required 22 shocks over 40 minutes. Butch spent eight days in the hospital, leaving with an internal cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) implanted to track his heart rate and deliver a shock to return it to normal if necessary.

“It’s been 11 years and I still don’t think it’s sunk in what happened,” Butch said. “Most people don’t understand how rare it is to survive a cardiac arrest.”

In fact, about 10 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside the hospital survive. CPR and use of an AED immediately after sudden cardiac arrest can double or triple the victim’s chance of survival, but only about 46 percent of cardiac arrest victims get bystander CPR.

“He’s one of the very lucky ones and he knows it,” Susie said. “Very few people survive when this happens.”

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His good fortune has inspired Butch and Susie to help others even more. The Gibbs at the time were co-presidents for the Humeston First Responders, and they still lead the group of volunteers who are licensed to provide basic emergency care before an ambulance arrives.

The Gibbs have become advocates for bystander CPR and public access to AEDS. Their county has about 6,400 residents and 30 public AEDs, the Gibbs said. The couple teaches CPR classes and have met with members of Congress and the Iowa Legislature to lobby for CPR in schools and more public AEDs. In 2014, the couple was honored as American Heart Association Volunteers of the Year in Central Iowa.

The Gibbs often preach the importance of jumping in to perform CPR. Some 70 percent of people report they feel helpless to act in a cardiac emergency, either because they do not know CPR or their training has lapsed.

“The only thing you can do wrong is to do nothing at all,” Susie said. “At least people have a chance if you’re willing to try.”

As for Butch, the past year has been difficult due to congestive heart failure, but he’s working toward living healthier since his cardiac arrest on April 2, 2004. The cardiac arrest came a year after he had a heart attack. Since those two events, the Gibbs have taken great solace in the fact that he’s made a difference for others.

“We feel like Butch lived for a reason, and we want to teach people that if we do CPR and have AEDs available, then people can live,” Susie said.

0701 - with daughter Amy

Susie and Butch with daughter Amy.

Photos courtesy of Butch and Susie Gibbs


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