Shocking Watts

Twenty-one-year-old Walter Watts was on campus when he suffered SCA

A 21-year-old SCA patient beat the odds when resuscitated by his college peers

Twenty-one is the age that many graduate from college … are able to drink alcohol legally … and are considered adults in every way in the eyes of the law. The milestones you reach at 21 shouldn’t include sudden cardiac arrest (SCA ). However, undergraduate Walter “Josh” Watts is one of the fortunate patients in his age group who experienced SCA and survived.

The Timeline

The last thing Watts remembers happening on Tuesday, February 7, 2012, was walking into his first class of the day at College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri—about an hour and a half before his heart went into ventricular fibrillation. He learned from his professors later that he was acting perfectly lucid and normal in class that day and when he arrived for work at the Pfeiffer Science Building. But his memory is a blank.

Watts had just started his work assignment, grading papers, when Associate Professor of Psychology Sheryl Haile, MEd, heard him hit the ground. Thinking he was having a seizure, she called the on-campus fire department, which is staffed entirely by students.

Her call came into the firehouse at 11 a.m., and Chief Gavin Harnstrom and Dakota Williams—both seniors at the college— responded in their rescue vehicle within three minutes, meeting fellow responders Jessica Messer and Dalton Trussell on the scene.

The responders knew instantly that the call was wrong—this was no seizure. Watts had turned blue, struggled to breathe and didn’t have a pulse.

“For a few seconds, my thoughts were chaotic,” admits Williams. “We were expecting a seizure, and I’d only seen something like this in an ambulance when there were paramedics around. It took me five or 10 seconds to gather myself.”

Harnstrom says that on arrival he, too, immediately grasped the unexpected situation, “I froze for a second, and I said ‘OK, it’s time to go to work.’” He asked his crew to start CPR and turned on the AED as soon as Williams had attached the electrode pads to Watts. “When it advised a shock, we all looked at each other,” says Williams. “We couldn’t believe it. Here was a kid younger than we are, and he needed to be shocked.”

Mission & Vision

The mission of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) Foundation is to prevent death and disability from sudden cardiac arrest. The vision of the SCA Foundation is to increase awareness about sudden cardiac arrest and influence attitudinal and behavioral changes that will reduce mortality and morbidity from SCA.

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