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‘I’m just thankful for every day that I wake up’

Krystle Wagner • Feb 25, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Two.

That’s the number of times Randy Poel’s heart was shocked with an automated external defibrillator (AED) before it became a “survivable rhythm” after he collapsed with cardiac arrest seven years ago this week.

Since then, the Grand Haven Township man and his wife, Lisa, have helped place more than 60 AEDs in buildings throughout West Michigan.

A life-changing day

On Feb. 21, 2010, Poel, then 47, was playing in a hockey game at Lakeshore Sports Centre in Muskegon. During the game, Randy’s teammates noticed he wasn’t breathing normally, so they got the attention of Nate Morgan, who played in the game before them.

Morgan, a Muskegon Township Fire Department captain and Poel’s friend, recognized Poel was going into cardiac arrest. Morgan performed chest compressions and used the ice arena’s AED device.

Morgan shocked Poel’s heart twice before paramedics arrived.

While CPR helps sustain life, an AED can change the heart, Poel said.

“The AED, quick action and CPR saved my life,” he said.

Doctors determined the cause of Poel’s cardiac arrest stemmed from a 1.5-inch-long narrowing — about a 99 percent blockage — of his left anterior artery. Based on the number of collateral arteries his heart built to pump blood to the bottom of his heart, doctors believe it was a birth defect.

Poel underwent a single bypass open-heart surgery on March 1, 2010.

Six weeks into recovery, he experienced shortness of breath.

Doctors found that fluid was filling the pericardial sac of his heart. After removing more than 1,600 cubic centimeters of fluid, Poel was hospitalized for five days before returning home to finish recovering. About 10 months later, he returned to work as a sergeant with the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety.

Poel retired from the Grand Haven force in June 2013. He now works as a firefighter and EMT for Grand Haven Township Fire/Rescue, as he has since the mid-1990s. He also coaches football for Grand Haven and works with the Ottawa County Marine Patrol.

In the months leading up to the 2010 episode, Poel felt a slight tightness in his chest when he would begin to exercise, but it always went away. Three or four months before the episode, his blood pressure registered high during a routine physical.

The day of the episode, Poel didn’t feel well and had almost flu-like symptoms.

Poel encourages people to listen to their body and have regular checkups and physicals.

“I’m just thankful for every day that I wake up,” he said.

Efforts to get AED devices to the public

While Poel was in the hospital, Lisa had an idea to ensure all local ice rinks have AED devices.

With the help of donations and fundraisers, the Poels have helped place more than 60 AED devices in the area by contacting ice rinks, churches, businesses and service clubs.

Last fall, one of the devices the Poels helped place in a fitness facility was used to save a woman, who also happened to be a family friend.

“It gives us goosebumps, especially when one is used,” Poel said.

Poel encourages people to get trained to use the AED and to perform CPR. He said the Good Samaritan law covers liability if the outcome isn’t as positive as his own experience.

Each fall, Grand Haven High School staff members participate in a CPR and AED training course. GHHS Principal Tracy Wilson said it’s good practice to have all of the building’s adults trained since many staff members are involved with students throughout the school day and in extra-curricular activities.

The high school has AED devices installed throughout the building — on the second floor, by the media center, outside the attendance office, by the Performing Arts Center, between the gyms and in the Aquatic Center. The school’s stadium and softball/baseball complex also have the devices, and athletic trainers take portable AED devices to events.

Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, Grand Haven students will be required to receive CPR and AED training at least once during grades 7-12.

Since anyone can be a first responder during a crisis, Wilson said she believes they have to provide adults and students with support and the tools needed to respond. She said it’s important every year for people to go through the training, even if it’s to refresh their memory so they become comfortable and not freeze in the event of an emergency.

Wilson said she thinks Randy Poel is a living testimony to how critical it is to have AEDs at public venues and the skills to use them.

“We know it can save a life,” she said.

Fundraising

An AED fund remains open with the City of Grand Haven so donations can be made to purchase AED devices or help supplement the costs.

Since a close family friend is a medical sales representative, Poel said they’re able to now get the devices at cost, which still is nearly $1,000 each.

Poel said they work with organizations that can’t afford the full cost of a device.

Klingel Homes also recently teamed up with the Poels for their monthly Give Project to help raise money.

To make a donation for AEDs, checks can be made to the City of Grand Haven/AED Fund and mailed to Grand Haven City Hall, 519 Washington Ave., Grand Haven, MI 49417.

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