From Cardiac Arrest to Black Belt

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If someone's heart stopped right in front of you, would you know what to do?  A college student is alive today because lots of people did.

Each year, hundreds of runners take to the streets of Berwick for the Run for the Diamonds, a race held on Thanksgiving day.   Last year, 22-year-old Colin Parker of West Scranton was one of them.

"I packed up all my stuff, had some water, and told my mom I'd see her at dinner after the race," he remembers.

Colin was young and healthy, a student at Penn State Worthington Scranton and member of the cross country team.  He says he felt fine the morning of the race, but that's the last thing he can recall until he woke up in a hospital bed.

"I remember saying, Mom, is this a dream?  Did I finish the race?  I felt wet, and there were IVs in me, and I'm thinking, why am I in a hospital?"

His mom Deborah, getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner, remembers what she was told in a frantic phone call.

"He is critical.  He's on life support.  Get here as soon as possible," she says.

Colin had collapsed on the course, after going into cardiac arrest, and was in a coma.  Deborah remembers arriving at his room, only to be greeted by a priest.  She was eventually shown a picture of her son's heart rate as paramedics worked on him: a flat line.

"They were going to call it at 3.  This one gentlemen said, he's too young.  He gave him that last defibrillator shock," she says.

Colin was flown to Geisinger Medical Center near Danville, to an area in the trauma unit.

"The vast majority of people who have that happen outside of the hospital don't survive," said Dr. Douglas Kupas.  He's an emergency physician and director of the medical system's Arctic Program.

In certain cases, he explains, patients' body temperatures are lowered to decrease the chance of brain cells dying.  Colin was one such case.

"We induce hypothermia.  That decreases the body temperature to a target of 90-93 degrees, much lower than the normal temperature.  That slows down metabolic processes, and slows the death of brain cells," Dr. Kupas notes.

Later, Colin underwent surgery to correct an arrythmia, or an irregular heart beat, something with which he was likely born.  Doctors installed a pacemaker and now say that Colin's prognosis is very good.  He can still run, and since the race last year has earned his third degree black belt in karate.

"Feeling fine.  I feel good, safe with this in me.  In case it happens again, I'll be protected," Colin says.

According to Dr. Kupas, the patients who fare best in cardiac emergencies get care right from the start.  In this case, several Geisinger employees happened to be running the race.  A bystander did chest compressions immediately, and an ambulance was seconds away.  He says that illustrates the importance of doing CPR right away until medical help can arrive.