A Determined Chef Who Can't Stay Down

A Determined Chef Who Can't Stay Down

Doug Chrisman, 18, Hyde Park, NY – 18 at time of event (2008)

Doug ChrismanMonday morning, 7:30am, Doug was busy skimming the stock in preparation for that day’s class. The stock didn’t make it. Doug did. His classmates at the CIA (The Culinary Institute of America that is) saw the freshman from Missouri collapse, and one of them ran to get the nurse. The chef called the Safety Office and an AED was immediately brought to the scene. Doug was unresponsive and his pulse had disappeared, his face was turning blue — they only had minutes before he would die.

In a text book case of the “Chain of Survival”, 9-1-1 was called, CPR started, and the AED used within just a few minutes. And finally, Doug was on his way to the hospital within 30 minutes. Despite this rapid intervention, Doug has no recollection of anything that morning until three days later in ICU, when he remembers seeing his parents. He doesn’t know why it happened, and can only just accept that he had suffered a cardiac arrest. The bump in his chest and the ache in his shoulder from the wound are reminders that he had an ICD implanted on the Wednesday of that week, but that was last week!

“I can’t believe I’m back at school already.” Doug said in wonder. Although he ought not be surprised that he returned to class the same week of his collapse. As soon as he was discharged, and after a shower and shave, Doug went to lobby the Dean of the school to allow him to return to his “team” and continue the three week block of lessons. He is class group leader and they were talking about starting a protest if he couldn’t come back to lead them.

“I feel good, been back in class for three days now. I notice at the end of the day I’m worn out a little. But it is seven hours in a kitchen, so I don’t really see any change [in his energy levels].” Doug said with confidence. His voice was firm and clear, the determination and discipline evident. This is a young man unwilling to let a cardiac arrest stop him from achieving his goals. “Eventually, [I’d like to be] Executive Chef. Right now, I don’t plan on owning my own restaurant. I’m only eighteen years old. I plan on doing this forever, but I just want to get through school right now.” Doug is also keen to be involved in sustainable agriculture, and aspires to doing his internship at the world class restaurant Primo, in Maine.

Now that he has an ICD protecting him from further cardiac arrests, Doug has one less barrier to reaching his dream. “I remember telling all the doctors, ‘I just want to get back to my class’ because I was worried I would be taken out of the block [3 week class] and be made to go home [to Missouri],” Doug said. “The cardiac arrest happened on day one! I just kept telling them, ‘You got to get me out of here’.’’ His parents noticed how angry Doug seemed that he was in the hospital, not appreciating that he needed to be there. “I didn’t really understand. I knew I had a cardiac arrest, but I felt fine.” He was transferred to Vassar Brothers Medical Center and spoke with the doctors about an ICD implant.

“At that time, I started to realize that it was pretty serious, that I was lucky to be alive. So I calmed down.” This part of the saga Doug recalls with any clarity. “I got the defibrillator put in on Wednesday. Thursday, I spent the day resting, and on Friday I was back in class,” he said with a calm voice.

“We made a deep poached Salmon with BĂ©arnaise sauce. It was challenging because I was group leader, with all those responsibilities, plus be responsible for my own food too. It was pretty tough, but I think I got an 87 [on my grade],” he said with obvious pride.

-Jeremy Whitehead

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