When Robert Lane left his house for a run one summer evening in 2020, he had no idea that minutes later he’d be performing hands-only CPR on a stranger with sudden cardiac arrest.
While running on Green Street in Ann Arbor, Lane saw a car suddenly weave erratically and hop the curb. He circled back to see what was going on.
After speaking with another bystander who had called 9-1-1, Lane approached the car and found the driver slumped in his seat, eyes open, his hands curled up. The woman beside him in the vehicle was frantically speaking Mandarin.
“I thought, this man has either had had a stroke or a heart attack. Then I thought, oh boy, I’m going to need to do something.”
Physical distancing and masking are the norms during the pandemic, but there was no time to hesitate. The man was not breathing, non-responsive and beginning to change color. Lane later learned that the man was 67-year-old Shunbao Li.
“I pulled the driver out of the car after I put it in ‘park,’ and then began chest compressions,” Lane said. When the ambulance arrived a few minutes later, Lane shared what he had done with the medics and the police. Once rescue personnel took over, he continued his run.
Lane’s quick-thinking turned out to be one of a series of events that helped save Li’s life.
Off-Duty and On-Duty Saint Joseph Mercy Emergency Physicians
As Lane performed life-saving CPR, an off-duty Emergency physician arrived on the scene.
“I saw a guy doing bystander CPR — the first time I had seen that in the field,” said Keenan Bora, MD, Emergency physician at Saint Joseph Mercy. “I pulled up just as Huron Valley Ambulance did. The medics acted quickly but were having difficulty because the patient’s heart rhythm was very unusual.”
Familiar with advanced cardiac life support beyond CPR, Dr. Bora helped the medics return spontaneous circulation in Li’s body. Together they were able to restart Li’s heart.
Dr. Bora called Christopher Wilson, MD, assistant medical director of Emergency Medicine at St. Joe’s Mercy, to let him know a patient was en route to the St. Joe’s ER.
What had caused sudden cardiac arrest in this 67-year-old active man? Scans revealed it was a blockage in the artery known as “the widow maker” — a massive heart attack that occurs when the left anterior descending artery is totally or almost totally blocked.
After stabilizing the patient, Dr. Wilson and ER Senior Resident Jonathan Porath, MD, sent Li to the cardiac catheterization lab for an emergency stent. The care team also used therapeutic hypothermia (targeted temperature management) to help save Li’s brain function. St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor is one of only a few hospitals in the region with therapeutic hypothermia as part of its Advanced Cardiac Care.
Chain of Survival
Recovery was long and difficult for Li. He spent five weeks in the hospital, three of which in the intensive care unit on a ventilator. Li eventually recovered with no serious complications.
“The chain of survival was absolutely amazing,” said Joel Schoenhals, son-in-law of Shunbao Li and spokesperson for the family. “It was as if everyone was involved at just the right time so they could be of the most help.
“The miracle of this story is that if this had happened at our house, I doubt that my wife and I would have had the presence of mind to help my father-in-law the way that Robert (Lane) did. He even risked getting COVID-19.”
As more Americans quarantine from coronavirus, there’s a more urgent need to learn hand-only CPR as a life-saving technique.
Schoenhals said his father-in-law is still physically weak but has suffered no memory loss, no brain damage, no paralysis and no organ damage.
“Everyone helped us — from bystander Robert Lane, Dr. Bora and the medics at the scene, to Dr. Wilson, the many hospital specialists and nurses, the hospital social worker and Home Care for rehabilitation.
“They took care of our entire family. There aren’t enough words to express how we feel. We are so grateful.”
CPR and COVID-19
A few months after the heart attack, Mr. Li’s family hosted a small ceremony sponsored by SaveMiHeart, a nonprofit focused on CPR education and sponsored by the American Heart Association.
The event included Mr. and Mrs. Li; ER Drs. Bora, Wilson and Hsu; the medics, Robert Lane, and Theresa A. Shields RN, BSN, executive director of SaveMiHeart.
Antony Hsu, MD,an ER physician at St. Joe’s Mercy and a member of SaveMiHeart, presented a certificate of appreciation to Robert Lane for working to improve cardiac arrest survival. Dr. Hsu’s message about CPR and COVID-19 is important for every Michigander:
“COVID-19 has driven down the number of bystanders willing to perform hands-only CPR as well as the amount of time they are willing to administer CPR. At SaveMiHeart, we don’t believe in luck; we are trying to take the word ‘luck’ out of people’s perception about survival after CPR. CPR works for many patients — as we saw with Mr. Li. We are encouraging people to learn hands-only CPR throughout the state.”