Doctors aren’t certain what caused Frank Bucar’s heart to go into cardiac arrest in December 2012.

They are certain about what saved his life: CPR.

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Frank Bucar - Fighter Wing

Frank Bucar at the 148th Fighter Wing

It was a Monday night in Duluth, Minnesota, and Frank was playing in his weekly basketball game at the local school gym.

During a fast break, Frank – a master sergeant in the Air National Guard – straggled behind. Onlookers told him later that by the time he reached the free throw line, he grabbed his chest, sunk to the floor and rolled onto his back.

“Hey! Get up! No time for napping,” someone said, before realizing the severity of the situation.

Once they realized Frank wasn’t responding, the others quickly moved into action.

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Frank and family

Anja, Maija, Brian, Leslie and Frank Bucar

Someone called 9-1-1, and other players went to find the custodian to retrieve an automated external defibrillator kept at the school. Meanwhile, Frank’s best friend, Tom Rzatkowski, ran to begin CPR, although he’d never had training. Another player, Steve Dudek, was CPR-trained and quickly took over.

Within moments, paramedics arrived and administered two shocks with an AED before taking him to the local hospital.

Like many people who experience a cardiac arrest, Frank didn’t have any symptoms or signs of heart trouble prior to the event. The 36-year-old father of three didn’t have any risk factors for heart disease.

Doctors later determined that an electrical problem in Frank’s heart triggered his cardiac arrest. He now has an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to shock his heart back into a normal rhythm if it ever happens again.

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Frank and Maija

Maija and Frank

Doctors credit quick action taken by Frank’s fellow basketball players for his positive recovery. Only 10 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside of the hospital survive, largely because CPR and other emergency care isn’t initiated quickly enough.

Effective bystander CPR provided immediately after sudden cardiac arrest can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival, but only 41 percent of cardiac arrest victims get CPR from a bystander.

An estimated 70 percent of Americans may feel helpless to act during a cardiac emergency because they either do not know how to administer CPR or their training has significantly lapsed.

Frank is working to change those numbers, starting with himself. Following his cardiac arrest, he underwent CPR training and has been working with the American Heart Association to urge others in his community do the same by sharing his story.

He’s also putting the AHA’s CPR Anytime kits to good use, organizing training sessions with fellow Air National Guard members who work on base, with friends, family and neighbors.

Frank and Brian

Frank and Brian (photo by Nicole Modeen Photography)

The American Heart Association helped pioneer CPR over 50 years ago, and continues to refine this lifesaving technique. The organization trains more than 15 million people each year in 60-plus countries. Even without formal training, anyone can be a lifesaver by remembering the steps to “Hands-Only CPR” – call 9-1-1, then push hard and fast in the center of the chest, preferably to the beat of the classic disco song, “Stayin’ Alive” until help arrives.

Frank says while he always thought CPR was a life-saving skill, the importance of making sure training was widespread took on a personal resonance.

“I wouldn’t be here if someone didn’t administer CPR,” he said.

Frank and Leslie (photo by Nicole Modeen Photography)

Frank and Leslie (photo by Nicole Modeen Photography)

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Photos courtesy of Frank Bucar

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Do you know a “Story from the Heart” we should tell?

Send an email to stories@heart.org that’s as brief or as detailed as you’d like.

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