If you’re going to jog and essentially drop dead on the sidewalk, you’d want it to happen like it did for Jon Cook of Johnson County — who’d still like to find the unknown “blonde with a dog” and other guardian angels who helped save his life.
“We’ve tried hard. We’ve gone door to door. I’ve tried going on (the app) Nextdoor,” Cook, the global CEO of the marketing firm VMLY&R, said of the efforts he and his wife, Lisa, have made.
So far Cook, who may be among the luckiest people to have his heart stop, has had no luck finding them to offer thanks.
Cardiac arrests strike some 350,000 adults each year outside of a hospitals. Abnormal rhythms cause the heart to stop beating. (Heart attacks, with their narrow or blocked vessels, are a prime cause of cardiac arrest.) Only a tiny 10% of people survive them outside a hospital, the American Heart Association says.
Of course most people, unlike Cook, probably don’t drop to the ground and, in some odd convergence in timing, have 10 strangers jump in to help — two of whom just happen to know CPR, followed by three others who aren’t just doctors, but cardiac physicians from the nearby University of Kansas Health System.
“He’s one lucky guy, for sure,” said KU cardiologist Prakash Acharya, who ultimately helped Cook regain his pulse and life that evening.
Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin was similarly fortunate to be surrounded by trained medical personnel when, in January, he sustained a hit in Cincinnati against the Bengals that thrust his heart into cardiac arrest. He made a full recovery.
For Cook, it happened on Oct. 6.
Age 52, trim and a regular runner (4 miles, six times per week) with zero history of heart disease, Cook trotted from his home in Fairway for an evening jog. In February, he recounted the story in a video for KU and, this past week, shared it with The Star.
“I really had no warning signs,” he said, although, looking back, he now realizes he did.
The time: just after 7 p.m. Cook was on his own that night. His wife was in Colorado. His three daughters also live out of town. He was running south on Mission Road, with his earbuds in, rounding the curve beyond Shawnee Mission Parkway.
He felt a rush to his head, “getting all hot,” Cook said. “I went down to one knee, ‘Oh, my gosh, what’s happening?’”
He rested his arm atop a political yard sign; he looked up to see a blond woman with a dog walking toward him.
“I haven’t found her yet,” Cook said, “but she’s the one who must have flagged others down. I went out, passed out, lost pulse.”
She apparently caught the attention of two other women who were either walking or driving by. Just then, Acharya’s car was rounding the corner.
It was not his normal route, but that evening his brother-in-law was in town from San Diego. Acharya, still dressed in his hospital scrubs, was driving to meet him for dinner.
“I was driving pretty slow,” he recounted in the video. “I see this man who is getting to the pavement. He’s trying to fall. Then I see this lady, by his side, with a dog, trying to get him down to the pavement.”
He pulled into a driveway. The two women had begun resuscitation.
“There were two ladies who were actually performing good quality CPR,” he said.
Acharya stepped in. Cook’s pulse returned, then died, then again returned.
“He brings me back,” Cook said of the doctor.
“Right when I woke up,” he told KU, “I could hear the ambulance sirens coming. Then it’s the weird moment, ‘I think those are for me.’”
He looked up, confused,to see what looked like 10 faces above him.
“I thought I was in a movie, then I realized I’m in the middle of this movie,” he said. “I have no idea what my role is in this movie. Then I figure out, ‘I think I’m the subject of this movie.’”
One of the women who had been giving him mouth-to-mouth spoke.
“Her first comment to me was, ‘You and I have been making out for 2 1/2 minutes,’” Cook said.
He spotted the man in the scrubs. “I didn’t know if that was a dream he was in doctor’s stuff, or if he actually was a doctor,” Cook said.
Acharya wasn’t the only doctor there. Two others from KU, cardiac anesthesiologists, had also stopped to offer aid. One found Cook’s cellphone and called his wife.
“I was sitting in my car,” Lisa Cook said. “And she said, ‘I’m with your husband. He’s had a heart attack. We performed CPR, but he’s awake and talking.’ … I could hear the ambulance coming. … It’s hard not to be crying on the phone talking to them. You’re shocked. You know they had just done CPR. He had died and they brought him back.”
“Thank God,” she said, for the woman with the dog. “Thank God” for the two women who stopped and for Acharya driving a different route.
“It didn’t take me long to figure out how lucky I was,” her husband said, adding, “if you could script who, miraculously, could accidentally show up on the night you had cardiac arrest, unexpectedly, you couldn’t have drawn it up any better.”
Cook is back to good health, albeit with a defibrillator in his chest for good measure.
Cook’s treating physician, electrophysiologist Rhea Pimentel, said his official diagnosis is cardiac arrest, “secondary to left heart dysfunction and atrial arrhythmia.” In other words, his heart was beating so fast, he didn’t get enough blood to his brain. It caused his heart to suddenly stop beating and for him to collapse.
“He was a little bit of a conundrum when he came in,” Pimentel said. “He’s very fit, very active, really had not had a lot of symptoms beforehand, probably up to the last couple of weeks.”
Cook, looking back, now realizes he probably had unrecognized symptoms from the prior Sunday when he was out of town, four days before collapsing. He’d been jogging and and felt weak early on in his run, enough so that he needed to slow down, then stop and place his hands on his knees. He assumed he was just tired from work.
“It wasn’t enough for me to go to the doctor,” Cook said.
Testing following his cardiac arrest revealed that Cook was prone to atrial flutter, in which the upper chambers of the heart beat excessively fast. The normal average resting heart rate for an adult is about 60 to 100 beats per minute. Cook’s was hitting 300.
“Atrial flutter is typically not a dangerous rhythm,” Pimentel said. “But any rhythm that goes fast enough … can cause a problem.”
Cook’s company now offers CPR training at work.
He concedes that, if he allows it, he can easily get lost in “what ifs.” Two nights prior to his cardiac arrest, he had been lifting weights in his basement. What if his heart had given out then with no one to help? What if he had jogged a different path? What if the woman with the dog hadn’t flagged for help? What if the two other women weren’t as skilled in CPR? What if Acharya had driven a different way?
“I kind of don’t try to dwell there,” Cook said. “But I have to admit, if I’ve got some time on my hands — I’m on a long drive or a long flight, or I can’t sleep sometimes — I do think about, you know, the scary factors of what could have been and how easily it could have been for one thing to happen slightly differently.”
More, he thinks about how grateful he is. He is back to running — the exact same route.
“I’ve been running that stretch ever since,” he said, with a watchful eye for the woman with the dog.
“I still haven’t found her, but I think I will at some point,” Cook said. Or the CPR Samaritans.
He knows what he’ll say.
“For sure, obviously, thank you,” Cook said. “But I would say thank you not just for knowing and being certified in CPR. But it’s the act of having the courage to use it, to jump out of their lives and actually apply what they know.
“So, I’m appreciative. I’m appreciative that they were brave enough to try.”
Where to learn CPR in Kansas City
▪ Hands-Only CPR: The American Heart Association recommends a two-part CPR method that even children can learn. It has a Spotify list of Don’t Drop The Beat songs that have rhythms to guide you through chest compressions. heart.org/cpr.
▪ American Heart Association classes: Find a course at heart.org/CPR. Classroom, online or hybrid. Classes are offered at dozens of sites across the metro. 1-877-AHA-4CPR or 1-877-242-4277.
▪ American Red Cross classes: Find one at redcross.org/take-a-class/cpr. In-person, online or hybrid. 800-RED-CROSS or 1-844-941-4698.