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Real Life Stories

Philips HeartStart Home Defibrillator

"Without that machine, I was gone. I was finished. It was over."
Playing water volleyball in a hotel pool Don McQuinn suddenly went face down in cardiac arrest. Quick-thinking friends administered CPR to no apparent avail. His doctors later called it ventricular tachycardia. Don called it "lights out."
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Philips HeartStart Home Defibrillator


Mary Dunne has launched a campaign to make sure what happened to her family doesn't happen to another family.
Mary Dunne likes to imagine the sort of grandfather her husband would have made. He would have been fun, she thinks. Full of stories and songs, full of the adventure he always enjoyed with his family.
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"Without that machine, I was gone. I was finished. It was over."

Playing water volleyball in a hotel pool Don McQuinn suddenly went face down in cardiac arrest. Quick-thinking friends administered CPR to no apparent avail. His doctors later called it ventricular tachycardia. Don called it "lights out."

"My friends had been kidding me about making the young guys look bad," Don McQuinn said. "I said, you know, I'm old but I'm not dead yet. And within 10 seconds I was. I went up, they tell me, to spike a ball and came down face down in the pool."

Few people expected such a thing to happen to Don, a self-described "ne'er-do-well grandfather," a former Marine and a tough man who blew stress tests "out of the tub." At 68, as vigorous as ever, enjoying success as a novelist, Don walked three miles on most days and swam often.

"Don never had any symptoms."

He also lifted weights and got regular checkups that showed him he was in excellent health. His cholesterol was low. His family showed some history of heart problems, but Don never had any symptoms.

Then came the water volleyball game he will remember for the rest of his life. After 15 minutes of CPR, a policeman arrived with an automated external defibrillator. The officer had only recently been trained with the defibrillator and had never used it in an emergency.

Placed on his chest, the defibrillator automatically analyzed his heart rhythm and instructed the police officer to deliver the single shock that brought McQuinn back to life. One shock was all it took.

"The policeman used the defibrillator for the first time."

"Without that machine I was finished," Don said. "The policeman used the thing for the first time, so I have to think it's foolproof. It's reading what's going on in there and telling the guy."

"That's the miracle of it," said his wife, Carol, "because if the machine doesn't read that it's a real cardiac arrest, it will not go off."

After a brief recovery period and even more ribbing from friends, Don returned to life as usual—with some changes. These days, he's cut down on drinking, though he still visits bars to talk with friends. He's working on his 10th novel and still attending writers' conferences. The thing he's most grateful for in life is the fact that he has it.

"I think I've grown a little more introspective, a little more sensitive," Don says. "And I know from my own reactions I've become more sympathetic. I think my emotions are perhaps a little more closer to the surface than they ever were in my life before.

"I don't feel that I'm supposed to do anything except take very close account of my own life now. That's what it's all about. I enjoy the hell out of being alive, and I intend to work at it as long as I can draw a breath."

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Mary Dunne has launched a campaign to make sure what happened to her family doesn't happen to another family.

Mary Dunne likes to imagine the sort of grandfather her husband would have made. He would have been fun, she thinks. Full of stories and songs, full of the adventure he always enjoyed with his family.

On June 1996, Cyril Dunne died of sudden cardiac arrest at his home in Chicago. He was fit, healthy, slender, and with no apparent tendency toward heart disease or coronary blockage. His death left Mary a widow and their four children without a father. He was 52 years old.

"Our lives changed forever that day"

"We lost a father, a husband, a friend, a coach, a mentor, a dad. We went from being the Dunne family to a single parent family.

"You become a lot more self-conscious after something like this happens. You find going so many of the places you used to go really difficult. When you see people you know in the grocery store, they turn and go the other way because they don't know what to say. I never envisioned walking my daughter up the aisle at her wedding. I was going to be in the front seat, and her dad was going to walk her up the aisle."

"A defibrillator would have made a big difference."

The first emergency response team to reach the house after the family's frantic call was a pair of firemen with an oxygen tank. They arrived nearly nine minutes after the call came, and those minutes might have made all the difference for Cyril.

"I've gone over my husband's medical condition with our primary care physician, and he feels that if Cyril had gotten the appropriate medical care [defibrillation] at the right time instead of too late, yes, it would have made a big difference. I think a defibrillator would have made a big difference. Our lives would be so much different now."

Because she feels so strongly about this, Mary Dunne has launched a campaign to make sure what happened to her family doesn't happen again. Thanks to her efforts, the city of Chicago now requires all fire engines and emergency response vehicles to carry defibrillators.

"I think in the city of Chicago that every single person is a little safer because of my efforts," Mary Dunne said. "I think that if they call 911, if a fire engine happens to be the first responder because an ambulance is not available, the public can be pretty well assured that they will be equipped with defibrillators, and that the fire people know how to use them."

Defibrillators are becoming standard equipment in many places where the public spends time: in airports, on airplanes and in many workplaces. But Mary Dunne feels automated external defibrillators could also make a big difference in many homes.

"I hope that the efforts will continue and more and more people, particularly the general public, will understand how easy automated external defibrillators are to operate, how necessary they are in all buildings, and now hopefully in homes."

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The Facts
Defibrillation is recognized as the definitive treatment for ventricular fibrillation. While CPR may help prolong the window of survival, it cannot restore a normal cardiac rhythm.