Tony Gilliard’s friends did everything right one Tuesday night on the basketball court.
While playing a game in June, the 52-year-old made a lay-up and then ran down the court in Fairview Baptist Church’s Recreation Outreach Center in Greer. At the free-throw line, he fell backward.
“I just (sat) down on a chair that ain’t there,” he said. “Ten minutes later, I see the lights in the ceiling.”
View First Aid Corps World Map of AED Locations in a larger map
Gilliard had a small heart attack that caused cardiac arrest. The other players reacted immediately, starting chest compressions, calling 911 and using an automatic external defibrillator (AED).
Josh Thomas was playing with Gilliard that night. Thomas was on the sideline because of an ankle injury when Gilliard collapsed.
“He was on the ground,” he said. “First we thought he had just tripped, but then we realized he was being nonresponsive.”
Thomas had gone through renewal certification for first responder training just days before at Caterpillar, where he works in product support.
“I’ve been a first responder for two years and this was the first time that I ever had, thankfully, to use it,” he said. “Afterward, you start to think about what if, what if, what if, but I can’t really do that. I can’t say enough about the group of guys that were here that night. Incredible.”
The church had purchased five AEDs about six months ago, said Dean Hawkins, Fairview Baptist Church sports and recreation director.
“I’ve been pushing for two years for the church to get one, especially in the gym,” Hawkins said. “There’s so much activity. It took awhile to get one, to get the funds to go ahead and order one. When we did, our safety team said we need to have them throughout the church, so they’re throughout our whole church campus.”
Because of the AED’s involvement in saving his life, Tony and his wife, Rita, are trying to spread the word about the importance of the device.
“If facilities that don’t have them will get them, then it can save other lives. … We want to get the word to help somebody else,” Rita Gilliard said. “It helped him.”
“That and these folks saved my life,” Tony Gilliard said.
Without his fast-acting friends providing chest compressions and using the AED, “his chances of survival would have gone down dramatically if he would have survived at all,” said Michael Emery, Greenville Health System physician with Carolina Cardiology Consultants. Emery was on-call the night Gilliard was brought in.
About 10 percent of people who have cardiac arrests outside of a hospital survive the hospital discharge, Emery said, and most don’t make it to the hospital.
“He’s a lucky man,” he said.
“They were thoughtful enough to go get the automatic defibrillator,” Emery said. “They had one, which was great, and someone thought of it, which is even better, and applied it immediately.”
AEDs are pretty basic to apply, Emery said.
“There are nice big pictures on the all stickers,” he said. “It will say ‘analyzing rhythm’ and it will analyze the rhythm and decide if the person needs to be shocked because not all causes of arrest are from a rhythm that can be shocked. It’s not as straight-forward as watching it on TV, but the machines are pretty smart, and they can usually figure it out if it’s a rhythm that needs to be shocked.”
Most people don’t survive an event like Gilliard’s, particularly without complications, Emery said. A lot of people who do survive aren’t the same, dealing with memory issues or debilitation, he said.
Gilliard would be dead without the AED and the other players’ efforts, Rita Gilliard said.
“The doctor actually said he would have been dead or brain dead by the time EMS got in there,” she said.
“One actually told him, ‘Welcome back to the living,’ and the other said, ‘Oh, you’re the guy that came back from the dead,’ ” Rita Gilliard said. “When he had cardiac arrest, his heart stopped. They got him back.”
Donald Rubenstein, a Greenville Health System cardiac electrophysiologist, saw Tony Gilliard the day after “the big event, and I was quite surprised.”
“I’m quite happy he made such a great survival after this,” Rubenstein said. “He had some great friends that helped him out.”
Gilliard’s friends did all the right things, he said.
“This just goes to show the importance of these AEDs at public places,” Rubenstein said.
Gilliard hasn’t been back on the court except to shoot a few baskets since his cardiac arrest while he goes through the 12-week recovery. But he plans to.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s what I love to do.”