A year ago, prompt CPR by his father and his girlfriend saved Ricky Ewald’s life.
But their actions stand to potentially save the lives of many others in Nevada County, after the incident kick-started an effort by Nevada County Consolidated firefighters to raise money for community classes, set to kick off March 23.
Ewald, then a 22-year-old, collapsed March 17, 2012, when he went into sudden cardiac arrest.
But because both Rick Ewald and Vanessa Hart recently had taken CPR classes, they were able to keep Ricky alive during the crucial minutes until paramedics arrived.
Afterward, the family made it their mission to spread the word about the value of CPR training, and to help the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District — whose firefighters responded to their 911 call — raise the needed funds to conduct community classes.
Capt. Patrick Sullivan, one of the first responders on the scene, said the early resuscitation efforts bought Ricky critically needed time.
“This was the first time I’ve ever seen a family so dialed in to doing CPR,” Sullivan said during a ceremony last year in which the Ewalds thanked the responding firefighters. “It was seamless.”
Firefighters from Engine 84 and Engine 5464 responded within five minutes of the call, and fire personnel took over CPR, established an airway and administered two shocks via a defibrillator.
According to Sullivan, almost 90 percent of sudden cardiac arrests happen at home, with a less than 8 percent survival rate.
“Early CPR is extremely important,” he said.
“Three-quarters of the time, people don’t know what to do — or they’re scared of what to do.”
Sullivan said the incident involving the Ewalds “reinforced the fact that we needed a community-driven CPR class available in Nevada County.”
Sullivan, a qualified CPR instructor, took the lead in seeking out funding to make that happen; he estimated the total cost of purchasing sufficient mannequins — “enough to put on a class, to make it a worthwhile project” — and all the training materials at about $6,000.
Ultimately, he said, three firefighters associations teamed together to fund the project — the Nevada City, Watt Park and Gold Flat firefighters associations.
“They all are part of the previous all-volunteer fire departments that were here (before consolidation),” Sullivan said. “They still do fundraising and take on projects like this.
“They all saw the need and agreed with the program and funded it. With that, we were able to purchase 16 adult and 16 child mannequins, two defibrillators, and all the support material, the books and everything that goes along with them.”
Currently, there are no classes of this kind being offered in Nevada County.
“They tend to be equipment-intensive classes, that had been the hold-up,” Sullivan said, adding that the mannequins, for example, have a limited lifespan.
“Some of the mannequins we were using for training were older than the firefighters training on them,” he said with a laugh.
The newly purchased equipment is going to allow the fire department to teach more effectively, Sullivan said.
The courses will focus on teaching how to recognize heart attacks and perform effective cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and will cover hands-only CPR for adults, child and infant CPR, the use of defibrillators, and choking relief.
The American Heart Association course is the “gold standard” for cardiovascular care, Sullivan said, adding the materials include the most current information available.
The class is not meant for rescuers, he said, but for people who want to take appropriate actions early on to save a life.
“You don’t get a CPR card out of this, but you do get a reference book,” Sullivan said.
While there are no guarantees that learning CPR will save a person’s life who has gone into cardiac arrest, Sullivan said, having a working knowledge of resuscitation techniques “gives them a fighting chance.”
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.