By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Debi Mrozowski at clockLike any Sunday during basketball season, Debi Mrozowski was sitting next to the court, running the scoreboard and game clock for the Parks and Recreation Department in Wallingford, Connecticut.

“We’ve already called 9-1-1!” she heard someone yell from another court. “He’s unresponsive!”

A 38-year-year old man had collapsed and didn’t appear to be breathing. Mrozowski recognized him, but hadn’t met him and didn’t know his name. Yet she had been trained in CPR and use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).

So had Connie Bickford, who happened to have gone through CPR and AED training with Mrozowski in 2006 and who happened to be in the bleachers that day.

While Mrozowski began chest compressions on the man, Bickford grabbed the AED and someone else called 9-1-1. They were off to a perfect start in saving his life.

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Bickford delivered the machine and the women attached the pads on the man’s chest. The device scanned for a heart rhythm, then returned the message, “Shock advised.”

“The two of us looked at each other, and I thought, “Oh my God, this is real,” Mrozowski said.

Working together, Mrozowski and Bickford used the AED four times to shock the player’s heart back into rhythm in between chest compressions. They used Hands-Only CPR, skipping the traditional mouth-to-mouth breathing because the man had hit his mouth when he collapsed, causing it to bleed.

After about 20 minutes, paramedics arrived. It took even longer for the patient to be completely resuscitated.

What matters most, though, is that he was resuscitated.

While his drama played out at the hospital, Mrozowski went through her own fallout.

“I literally crawled away, I was so exhausted,” she said. “You don’t realize how hard of a workout it is because your adrenaline kicks in, but I found muscles I never realized I had after that.”

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Debi-JonathanDavisJonathan Davis suffered cardiac arrest on the court that day – Feb. 23, 2014 – because of ventricular fibrillation (VFib), a cardiac rhythm disturbance in which the lower chambers quiver and the heart can’t pump any blood. Then 38, he received an internal defibrillator to keep his heartbeat in sync.

The following Sunday, Davis and his family returned to the court to meet his lifesavers. They presented Mrozowski with a card and flowers. At season’s end, Davis and his 6-year-old son visited again offering more thanks.

“It really put things into perspective for me,” Mrozowski said. “His family is still intact because we reacted so quickly.”

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debi 2014 school picThe incident has changed Mrozowski’s life, too.

Wherever she goes, she looks for the AED – just in case. It still crosses her mind every time she enters the gym where Davis collapsed.

“Not a day goes by when I don’t think about this gentleman,” she said.

About a decade earlier, a local 17-year-old boy collapsed but survived because an AED was used. His family pushed for AEDs to be available in schools and public buildings in Wallingford, and school officials encouraged all employees to undergo training. Mrozowski – and Bickford – were working at Rock Hill Elementary in Wallingford at the time. The 17-year-old frightening incident especially resonated with Mrozowski because she had a son who was the same age.

“In a million years, I never would have thought I’d have to use it, but it has definitely changed my life,” Mrozowski said.

Mrozowski is now a voluntary spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. The AHA 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. The AHA also encourages states to pass laws to train high school students in CPR before they graduate, putting more potential lifesavers into our communities.

Mrozowski shared her story at the local Go Red For Women kick-off breakfast in October and at a local affiliate board meeting. Her inspiring tale is a call to action for more people to become trained in CPR and using AEDs.

She’s also been recognized locally for her quick actions.

The Wallingford Board of Education named Mrozowski the staff member of the month, the Wallingford Parks and Recreation Department Board of Directors and local fire department honored Mrozowski and Bickford, and the AHA named Mrozowski a Heartsaver Hero.

“I don’t consider myself a hero,” she said. “I was just blessed to be in the right place at the right time and had the right skills to use.”

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Photos courtesy of Debi Mrozowski

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