Ken McCauley knows he is lucky to be alive. And his doctors agree.
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“I’m just blessed and thankful to be here,” McCauley said.
On Dec. 3, McCauley, 53, went into sudden cardiac arrest.
He was at a spin-cycling class at the Salem YMCA. “I was feeling pretty good,” he said this week reflecting back on that day.
It was the 5:30 a.m. class that McCauley — who works in the finance department at LewisGale Medical Center — had been attending every Wednesday and Friday since the beginning of the year. An avid runner since his doctor recommended exercise at age 48, McCauley began taking the class after his knees started bothering him. He still ran four days a week, and completed the Star City Half Marathon in November.
The class, which had about 10 participants, was on its third push as they peddled up an imaginary hill with the tension high on their stationary bikes. That’s when McCauley blacked out, falling off his bike and hitting the back of his head.
“I just remember a feeling of white. I felt everything blur into white and I remember reaching down to adjust the tension back on my bike,” he said.
After that, McCauley knows only what he has been told happened.
Laura Hart, a physician assistant who happened to be riding on the bike next to McCauley, checked for a pulse. She didn’t detect one.
The instructor ran for the facility’s Automated External Defibrillator. Then Hart and another class participant, Dr. Nathan Stephens, followed the instructions for using the defibrillator.
“The AED said to shock,” recalled Stephens, a Salem dentist. “We cleared him and administered the shock, and he immediately came to. He came off of the floor a little bit and said, ‘What’ — that was it. We got a pulse immediately from him.”
McCauley said he strongly believes that, without the AED, he would have died. Evidence supports that theory. While people who go into cardiac arrest do survive with basic CPR chest compressions, research has shown that the survival rate doubles if an AED is used properly, said Dr. David Sane, chief of cardiology at Carilion Clinic.
Sane did not treat McCauley but said the use of an AED is “clearly associated with improved outcomes.”
In McCauley’s case, the AED “most likely saved his life,” said Dr. Richard Konstance, a cardiologist at Heart of Virginia Cardiology medical practice on Electric Road and the physician who treated McCauley at LewisGale.
McCauley said he hopes that by sharing his story he will bring awareness to the benefit of AEDs and recognition to those who acted to save his life.
“I know how fortunate I was to be where I was and the fact that the Y has that equipment in place,” McCauley said. “I could have easily been out for a run on the street. That’s where I am a lot of mornings.”
He, too, thinks that AEDs should be in more places.
McCauley was hospitalized for six days. He had a pacemaker and defibrillator installed to protect his heart against future malfunctions. And he is already back at the Salem YMCA, although he isn’t exercising at the same threshold. On Christmas Eve, he stopped by the Friday morning spin class with candy canes. He received hugs and well wishes in return.
“We felt like it was our Christmas miracle to see Ken gone and come back. It was a real blessing,” said Stephens.