Richard Blalock now knows you don’t have to be big to be a hero. He almost died, but was saved by two small ones.
The Blalock family: Lauren, 9, Richard, Sharon and Jenna, 8
His daughters Lauren, 9, and Jenna, 8, helped his wife Sharon Blalock prevent him from dying of a severe asthma attack last month in their Everett home.
Lauren, a fourth grader at Mukilteo Elementary, and Jenna, a third grader at Olivia Park Elementary, have no formal training, but followed their trained mom’s CPR instructions.
Richard, 43, suffered the asthma attack that caused him to stop breathing around 9 a.m. on Sept. 8. Just before he blacked out, he managed to say “Call 911.” His daughters were in the room and heard him.
“These three little heroes of mine did their best to keep me alive,” Richard said. “I’ve told them many, many times, ‘You guys are my heroes. You’ve really done an amazing job.’ I’m really thankful for them.”
Alerted by the girls’ screams, his wife Sharon called 911 and then she and the girls immediately started administering CPR. Sharon pumped his chest while Lauren and Jenna alternated giving mouth-to-mouth.
They continued for several minutes until paramedics arrived. It was another 3 1/2 minutes before Richard was breathing on his own.
Awake, he was transported to Providence Medical Center in Everett. He stayed there six days. Doctors said he had suffered acute respiratory failure.
Coincidentally, Richard’s own dad had died just five days earlier from an asthma attack. His heart had failed during the attack. He was 69.
“I didn’t want him to die just like his daddy,” Jenna said.
“Thank God,” Lauren said. “It was a miracle.”
Richard realizes he could have died that day, all because he hadn’t been taking care of himself.
“When [my dad] passed away, I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that I was getting sicker, and my asthma was getting out of control,” Richard said. “This was kind of my fault.”
When his attack came, Richard tried to use his hospital-grade nebulizer, but it wasn’t helping.
A nebulizer is a medical device that delivers medication in the form of mist inhaled into the lungs.
“He literally chewed the thing,” Lauren said. “There were so many bite marks on the mouthpiece.”
“The hospital had to give him a new one,” Jenna said.
After 10 seconds on the nebulizer, Richard, who has been asthmatic since he was 5, realized that this was like no other asthma attack he’d ever had.
The last thing he remembered was hearing the girls scream before he blacked out.
“They said, ‘Daddy can’t breathe,’” Sharon said. “He was turning blue. The way he looked, he was dying.”
Sharon rushed into their bedroom and saw Richard struggling to breathe on the nebulizer. He wasn’t getting enough air and was about to pass out. Then he did.
The girls called 911 and then Sharon called 911 again because she feared the paramedics weren’t going to get there fast enough. That’s when she started chest compressions and asked the girls to help by blowing air into his lungs.
“His mouth is icky,” Jenna said.
“I felt like I was kissing a 9-year-old,” Lauren said.
Lauren tilted her dad’s head back and lifted his chin – without instruction. She had seen the move on a Nickelodeon TV show and mimicked it.
“It was on ‘Sam & Cat,’ and it was this episode where a guy was getting so freaked out that he passed out, and Sam and Cat were doing CPR on him,” Lauren said. “They tilted his head back, which caused him to start breathing again.”
“I’ve actually seen the episode, and it’s a really silly scene,” Richard said. “It’s surprising they were able to learn anything of value from it.”
As paramedics wheeled him to the ambulance, Richard saw how traumatized his wife and girls were and gave his family a thumbs up to let them know he was OK.
“The fact that I was awake and alive at all was a major miracle,” he said, adding that the paramedics praised his girls for their CPR work.
In the ER, doctors gave Richard the option of going home that day or staying overnight for observation. He asked to stay.
“It was pretty serious,” he said. “My lungs were in far worse shape than I think they realized.”
Richard connected the dots from his hospital bed: He had had a close call when home alone not long before the Sept. 8 asthma attack.
“If they hadn’t been there [this time], I would be dead,” Richard said. “Eventually my heart would have stopped.”
His asthma is the result of being raised in a home with second-hand smoke. Both of his parents smoked cigarettes. Richard’s dad had COPD and smoked until the day he died.
Richard is now home from the hospital and taking medication to control his asthma. He is off bereavement leave and was back to work as of Sept. 30.
He also wears a medical alarm and GPS at all times – his wife and girls made him order it.
Richard and his family are going to counseling to deal with the trauma of his near-death experience. Jenna is taking it the hardest, but talking about it seems to help.
“That CPR training I did, there was a reason I did it,” Sharon said. “It’s just so strange to me how I’m just casually taking a class, and then someday I use it on my husband.”
All four of them are all also going to sign up to take CPR classes. Sharon wants to become an expert.
“This is a testament to the power of CPR,” Richard said, “and how you can be a hero, no matter how small you are.”