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'I pushed the button'

Alexander Sinn • Dec 20, 2018 at 7:00 AM

As the Fruitport Calvary Christian basketball team shot free throws last week, Jeff Zehr saw one of his players fall on the court. 

Called over by players, the coach took a moment to determine that senior Luke Anhalt had suffered a cardiac arrest. Zehr’s son, Zach, retrieved the nearby automated external defibrillator (AED) that saved Anhalt’s life.

Anhalt returned home Tuesday after days spent at Devos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, where the 17-year-old received an implanted defibrillator. The device will shock his heart back to life if it ever enters a fatal rhythm again.

Without the implant, such an incident requires quick action with an AED.

Calvary Christian School has two AEDs in the building, according to Principal Tom Kapanka, including one in the gym. The school has had an AED on site for about 15 years, he said, but three years ago upgraded to current models. One was provided by the Osteopathic Foundation of West Michigan, and the other by the Kimberly Anne Gillary Foundation.

Dr. Tom Watkins, who chairs the school board, helped acquire the devices and provided the wall cases.

Zehr is a chiropractic physician and former athletic trainer, but he said he had never witnessed a cardiac arrest prior to last week. He said the device led him through the procedure, while a 911 call had beckoned help.

As Anhalt wore a practice jersey, leads were easily attached to his chest, and the device analyzed his condition. Anhalt’s heart had entered a fatal rhythm, and needed the electrical pulse to correct it.

“I was almost really surprised, but it suddenly told me he needed to be shocked,” Zehr said. “I pushed the button.”

Zehr then began chest compressions, as instructed by the AED, and an ambulance arrived moments later. Anhalt needed another shock from the device to return his heart rhythm to normal.

Zehr said the life-saving steps were a matter of hooking up the device and following directions.

“Even though I have some training, it’s really important to know that everybody ought to have those available,” he said. “Anybody can work those things. They’re designed to be fail-safe and very easy to use. They will save lives.”

Many area schools have AEDs, but they are not required by state law. Michigan added CPR and AED training as a graduation requirement in 2017, but the devices aren’t in every building.

A push for more AED’s

Randy Poel suffered a cardiac arrest while playing hockey at a Muskegon ice rink in 2010. It was an AED at the rink that saved his life with two shocks.

The Grand Haven-area EMT, then a public safety officer, made it his mission to bring more AEDs to public places in Michigan.

Poel started by providing a handful of them to ice rinks, and has since helped bring over 80 devices to West Michigan. Four of them have since been used.

Through a partnership with North Star Medical in Ada, Poel is able to help provide the devices at wholesale cost, especially to organizations that can’t afford them.

“It’s the best $1,000 to $1,500 someone can spend to get those in your place of gathering, whether it’s a school, church or business,” he said.

As an EMT, Poel has provided AED treatment since his own cardiac arrest.

“The first time was a little eerie,” he said. “There’s no question. It gave me goosebumps.”

Zehr did the right thing by contacting 911 immediately and beginning compressions, Poel added.

Back in the gym

At Tuesday night’s varsity basketball game against Muskegon Catholic, Anhalt surprised his teammates by striding into the gym and sitting on the bench with his friends toward the end of play. Hugs and handshakes followed.

Anhalt hopes to rejoin the team on the court toward the end of the season.

Zehr said it was a big surprise to see his power forward back in the gym, and it caused a big smile to spread across the bench.

“If something this horrible had to happen, things could not have gone more perfectly,” Zehr said.

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