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How a middle-schooler saved her dad's life with CPR

When Aerin Thomas, a student in Frisco ISD, learned hands-on CPR training in PE class, she never imagined she’d need to use it. When her father went into cardiac arrest and her mother didn’t know what to do, it was Aerin who saved her father’s life.

When Aerin Thomas, a student in Frisco ISD, learned hands-on CPR training in PE class, she never imagined she’d need to use it. When her father went into cardiac arrest and her mother didn’t know what to do, it was Aerin who saved her father’s life.

Aerin’s story: The day I save my dad’s life with CPR

“Mom and I were at the grocery store when Dad called. That was odd because he normally prefers to text. I heard Mom asking if he needed an ambulance. We quickly left the store and went home, which is just a couple of minutes away.

When we got home, Dad was sitting on the bed and said he was starting to feel better. Mom and Dad were talking, trying to figure out if they needed to go to the hospital. I started to bring groceries in from the car and was putting things away so the dog wouldn’t get into everything. The next thing I knew, Dad was unconscious on the bed, and Mom was calling 911.

I remember her calling out to me and then, she was on the phone. She tossed me the phone to talk to the emergency responders and give them our address while she started CPR. I was just focused on telling them exactly where we lived so they could get there! The dispatcher also asked me questions like “Is he breathing?” I remember glancing at what was going on and saw Mom wasn’t doing CPR the way I had learned. So I told her and then took over. While I was doing CPR, I was just thinking about the song Stayin’ Alive and trying to keep the beat for compressions. Not much else was going on in my mind. I was just focused and wondering how long it would take the ambulance to get there.

I didn’t think I would ever need to actually use CPR, but I paid attention in PE and listened to what they told us to do. We watched online simulations and practiced with a manikin. I didn’t stop CPR until the paramedics came, about 5 minutes later.

Once the paramedics arrived, I stood by and watched. The Battalion Chief, Paul Henley, let me ride with him to the hospital.”

Lucky to be alive

Joe was on his way to the Centennial Medical Center in Frisco within just 15 minutes of his wife, Angela, placing that 911 call. On the way, however, his conditioned worsened. “They told me he was not doing well, and his risk was increased from a level 2 to a level 1,” Angela remembers.

Upon arrival, he was found to have a 100% blockage in one artery and a 40% blockage in another. In the catheterization lab and during the procedure to place a stint in the blocked artery, Joe suffered another heart attack.

Just like countless other heart attack victims and their families, Angela had no idea he was at risk. “We know this sounds ridiculous, but we really didn’t know. He is not overweight and had not experienced any symptoms before.”

In the ICU, Joe was placed in a medically induced coma and given hypothermia therapy to slow the brain and heart down, reduce the risk of brain damage and allow the heart time to heal.

After three days in a coma, Joe was woken up and miraculously had no brain damage or any other long-term physical effects. He spent three days in ICU and was in the hospital for a total of eight days. Doctors credit the rapid response from the emergency services and the use of correct protocols for his quick and full recovery—that and Aerin’s immediate use of CPR.

Joe owes his life to his daughter. “I am so proud of Aerin for just jumping in and doing what needed to be done. That is quite astounding for a 12-year-old to have the confidence and mental fortitude to remain calm in a very stressful situation.”

Lucky to be alive, Joe wants others to learn from his experience. “When faced with a life and death situation, don’t worry about if you are doing things right or are qualified, just do something! Also, we know it’s trite, but don’t take anything for granted. We have a unique understanding of how fragile life can be. Don’t waste a moment or a word. Live intentionally and with gratitude.”

Hands-Only CPR

Aerin’s quick-thinking and knowledge of CPR saved her father’s life. While nothing can replace the hands-on experience of a CPR training course, if you find yourself in a situation where CPR is needed, follow this advice.

  • Push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the rate of 100-120 compressions per minute. Approximately in the rhythm of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.
  • Compressions should be hard enough to compress the chest one inch. This is much harder than you would expect and may require you to put your entire body weight into it.
  • CPR with breaths should only be performed by someone who has received formal CPR training. In this case, breaths should be given in a 30:2 compressions-to-breaths ratio.

Open your heart!

Someone dies from heart disease, stroke or another cardiovascular disease every 43 seconds in this country. They miss out on life’s precious moments. They leave behind family and friends who loved them.

The mission of the American Heart Association is “to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke”, we ask you to help them fulfill this mission by making a donation.

Please click here to make a donation.