One year after sudden-death event, Delaware teen celebrates life

One year after sudden-death event, Delaware teen celebrates life

teen survivor of heart attack celebrating with the people who rescued him
A year after suffering cardiac arrest and being brought back from the brink of death, Brian Atkins reunites with the Emergency Department staff, paramedics, first responders, family and friends who helped to save his life: (back row) Blaine Zumar; Meg Salter, NREMT; Gary Bollinger, RN; Oksana Iwaskiw, RN; Mike McMichael, NREMT; E.J. Castagna, NREMT; Tom Shoemaker, NREMT; (front row) Mitchell Saltzberg, M.D.; Jennifer Henry, RN; Paul Sierzenski, M.D.; Betsy Foster, RN; Melissa Ivey, RN; and Marla Sanabria, RN.

Brian Atkins, a seemingly robust and healthy 15-year-old Delaware teen, went into cardiac arrest, experiencing “sudden death” on Sunday morning, May 2, 2010.

He had gone to visit a friend’s home, where a family gathering was under way. He collapsed shortly after arriving there. Someone attending the party, Betty Foster, a retired nurse, started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the spot. On the way to the Christiana Hospital Emergency Department and for more than an hour after arrival, emergency responders continued CPR until Brian regained a pulse.

Melissa Ivey, RN, CEN, says in her 20 years of experience in the Emergency Department, it has become difficult sometimes to feel optimistic about cases like Brian’s. Ivey, who is often part of the critical-care transport team, was instead “floating” as a nurse in the Emergency Department and ready to jump in when Brian arrived. She was shocked when she recognized Brian’s father, who had been her friend in high school.

“This case strengthened my faith in God and my confidence in the career path I chose,” Ivey says. “But after we revived Brian we still didn’t feel the joy as much as the worry about the possible outcome, which is far better than we imagined that day.”

Paul R. Sierzenski, M.D., the attending physician, praised the way everyone involved performed that morning. “Resuscitation is like a relay that begins with an all-out sprint,” Dr. Sierzenski says. “It starts with a bystander performing CPR—that is the most critical component before he reached the ED. Then we had a good handoff. It was as synchronous of a team event as we could ever have.”

Neurologically, Brian survived the harrowing event intact, his doctors say. He is now an honor student. On July 15, Brian and his parents returned to Christiana Care to celebrate his life and survival with the people who cared for him in his direst hour and a representative from the American Heart Association, who called their actions a textbook case of how things are supposed to happen.

Photo gallery: Celebrating a Life Saved

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