Shocked back to lifeAfter a defibrillator saved his life, a Superior businessman wants to raise money to buy defibrillators for more public places
By: By Mark Stodghill, Duluth News Tribune , Superior Telegram
Rick Rockwood was back having fun playing noon basketball at the Boys and Girls Club of Duluth on Friday on the same court where he died six months ago.
Duluth firefighters, trained as emergency medical technicians, were there Friday, too, but only for photographs this time. The last time they responded to the gym to see Rockwood they brought him back to life.
Rockwood, 57, had a heart attack during noon basketball on Nov. 28. He had played in one game and was getting ready to start another. “All of a sudden I grabbed my face and said, ‘Uh-oh guys, I need help.’ They said I was gone before I hit the floor. It’s the widow-maker [an occluded artery] that got me. It was a fatal heart attack, meaning I had died. I had gone.’’
George Balach, a Duluth dentist who was there to play basketball, started performing CPR as someone else called 911.
Duluth Fire Station No. 2 is only 1½ blocks away, and firefighters were there in less than a minute, said Capt. Joel Heikes of the Fire Department. Heikes, fire equipment operator Brad Bushey and firefighter Alex Owen arrived with an external heart defibrillator, used to shock the heart to make it beat after it has stopped.
“I had an out-of-body experience,’’ Rockwood said. “I was standing and all the guys were around me and I guess they were praying. I was watching the EMTs get the defibrillator out. They cut my jersey off.’’
In reality, the firefighters found Rockwood on his back with Balach performing CPR. “That’s a key to a successful story — quick CPR and quick defibrillation,’’ Heikes said. “We continued CPR while I was getting out the defibrillator. We confirmed that he had no pulse. We analyzed it and it advised us to shock him, and after the first shock we got a pulse back. We put an airway in. That was great. It doesn’t happen all the time like that, but that was great.’’
Rockwood, the owner of a Superior insurance agency, hopes to start a campaign to raise money to buy more defibrillators that can be placed in public places.
“My long-term goal is to try to develop an awareness that these defibrillators are needed in public places,’’ he said. “People need to know how to use them and where they are located in buildings, and a lot more lives will be saved.’’
The father of three adult sons said he had no history of heart problems or any health-related issue. He was adopted, and for that reason he scheduled regular physicals because he had no family medical history.
He said cardiologists at St. Mary’s Duluth Clinic discovered a “hereditary kink’’ in his left coronary artery that blocked blood flow and caused the heart attack.
“I had no burn marks and no brain damage, although that’s debatable according to the guys I play basketball with,’’ he said of being zapped by the defibrillator. “My biggest point is that George and those firefighters saved my life. If they wouldn’t have been there and the firefighters wouldn’t have had the quality training that they did, I would be dead — period.
“I’ve really got to acknowledge St. Mary’s Cardiac Care Unit. The doctors there had a lot to do with putting me back where I am. The other guys saved my life and these guys continued it.’’
He said the Superior Rotary is donating to his defibrillator effort. Anyone interested in helping start such a program is asked to call him at (218) 591-6867.