Posted by SCAFoundation on 09/21/2017
Seven Lifeguards, Including a Future EMT, Unite to Save a Life
A week after his cardiac arrest, J.R. Bourne returned to the beach to thank some of the lifeguards who saved his life. From left: Travis Blakeslee, Shane Obi, Sam Peters, Bourne, Dalton Bruce, Joe Walcutt and Rob Emahiser. (Photo courtesy of J.R. Bourne)

Politics may make strange bedfellows, as the saying goes, but they have nothing on the diverse pairings sometimes seen when cardiac arrest occurs.

On June 27, 2015, 40-year-old seasoned professional, James Ross (J.R.) Bourne, was “kicking around” a soccer ball with his friend, Luis Sanchez, on Jacksonville Beach, Fla. when he suddenly collapsed in the sand.

His next recollection, J.R. says, is someone shouting, ‘we have a pulse,” then, ‘oh wait we don’t,’ although he is not sure if those were actual shouts or his mind playing tricks on him during the event.

Then came two defibrillator shocks – he thinks – and the sense that his hands were hot – “almost burning.” While all this was whirling through his mind, what the Manager, Marketing Partnerships for the Professional Golf Association (PGA) was unaware of was the team of other professionals who were rushing to his aid.

In all, seven lifeguards were honored by the city of Jacksonville Beach for meritorious service because of their quick response to what could have been a fatal event. The first to the scene was 19-year-old lifeguard and future EMT Samantha (Sam) Peters. “(J.R.) wasn’t breathing,” Sam remembers, “so I checked to see if he had a pulse (he didn’t) and started CPR.”

Sam did not have an automated external defibrillator (AED), but one quickly arrived and two shocks were administered to restore J.R.’s heart to sinus rhythm. By that time, the ambulance that had been called at the first sign of the emergency had arrived to take the revived man to the hospital. As Sam puts it, “the cardiac chain of survival was flawless in this case.”

That chain included lifeguards Gordy VanDusen and Travis Blakeslee, among others, staying in constant touch with EMTs who were racing to the scene.

So, if it wasn’t for a teenager just starting out in a career dedicated to helping those in jeopardy and a group of other young men and women who were following that same path, a marketing veteran and husband might have lost his life.

That irony is not lost on J.R. “I think about my incident daily like I’m sure many survivors do,” he said in an email interview, noting that he frequents the spot of the rescue during morning walks as he had for years before the incident. And he still keeps in touch with his rescuers, none of whom he knew prior to that time.

“I’ve been in contact with all of them,” he said. “I email message them all, Gordy the most because he’s a local firefighter and (still) an active lifeguard.” J.R. believes that his angels and others like them are “truly heroes and pillars in their community,” and should not be taken for granted.

To that end, he is participating in the marketing and promotion of the Jackson Beach volunteer program which was established over 100 years ago, saying “I’m hoping to get a commemorative memorial up soon and support the growth of the program.”

That program will no doubt continue to unite diverse groups of people who may not otherwise get to know each other and, in some cases, may even save lives.

By A.J. Caliendo

An Update

Bourne spent six days at the hospital, undergoing tests and surgeries.

Cardiac catheterization found no blockage in his arteries, but an echocardiogram and MRI showed scarring on 20 percent of his heart. His ejection fraction score – a measure of how well the heart pumps blood – was 25. A normal reading is 50 or higher.

Bourne’s official diagnosis was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle that can disrupt the electrical signals and heartbeat. It’s a common condition that’s usually inherited, but the cause is unknown.

HCM could have caused Bourne’s heart to stop. Vigorous physical activity can trigger arrhythmias, which can lead to cardiac arrest in people with HCM.

Bourne received an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, because his risk for another cardiac arrest remained high. The pocket-watch-size device implanted in his chest monitors his heart rate and delivers a shock if it detects an irregular rhythm.

Bourne’s new ICD was put to the test six months later while he was playing golf. He passed out and “felt like someone punched me in the chest when I wasn’t expecting it.” After a visit to the hospital, he learned his ICD shocked him when his heart rate jumped to 288 beats per minute. A normal heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute.

“They identified what happened, but not why,” said his wife, Pam. “We don’t take the luck thing lightly.”

Since then, the couple have become certified in CPR and AED. They also volunteer with the American Heart Association, and Bourne joined the board of the American Red Cross Jacksonville Beach Volunteer Life Saving Corps.

“It’s important,” Bourne, now 43, said. “AEDs should be as common as fire extinguishers.”

-American Heart Association