Jim Whisnand is thankful. First and foremost, he is thankful to be alive. And it appears he wouldn’t be if some members of the Fallbrook community hadn’t pulled together and saved his life.
“I wouldn’t be here today if certain people didn’t do what they did,” said Whisnand, 58.
A Fallbrook native and 1973 graduate of Fallbrook High School, Whisnand is now the father of six and grandfather of 15. Given Whisnand’s healthy lifestyle, what happened on Friday, June 24, 2011 came as a complete surprise. After working all day at his job as a backflow technician for Fallbrook Public Utility District, Whisnand had come home and worked in the yard. When he finished, his wife suggested they go on an outing.
“My wife, Judy, and I went to Hot Summer Nites downtown and took our grandson Nicholas, who was three at the time, with us,” he explained.
Whisnand had just made a second trip up and down a giant inflatable slide with Nicholas, when he suddenly felt dizzy and collapsed on the ground.
“We had just started walking around again near the intersection of Main and Hawthorne when I felt myself starting to lose consciousness,” he said.
Immediately, his wife and some bystanders reacted, calling over paramedics from North County Fire who were standing just a few yards away.
“Luckily, the fire department was right there,” said Whisnand.
Battalion Chief Stephen Abbott was working at the event with North County Fire’s Station One ‘A’ Crew.
“[Our crew] was roaming the event, walking the street, when a bystander approached me and said a person was down – a block away,” said Abbott. “I radioed the rest of the crew and when we got to him, he was still breathing, but it was obvious something very significant was going on.”
Paramedics went to work, bringing equipment with them.
“Shortly after we reached him, he went into cardiac arrest,” said Abbott.
Abbott said paramedics initiated CPR and put an AutoPulse chest compression device into action. The device involves a battery-operated pump which squeezes the entire chest area, allowing the cardiac victim more consistent, high quality compressions versus the application of manual CPR.
“What was unique is that [Whisnand] had essentially no down time after going into cardiac arrest,” he explained. “We were with him, had AutoPulse working, and had a very short transport time to Fallbrook Hospital’s Emergency Room, which was only two or three blocks away.”
Abbott said Whisnand ended up receiving CPR in excess of 45 minutes.
“It is certainly very rare to have CPR go on so long,” said Abbott. “When we arrived at the emergency room (ER), we worked together with the ER team.” The reason for that, he explained, was if paramedics continued to operate the AutoPulse device, it freed up ER staff to address other needs.
“If humans are administering CPR, you have to rotate every two minutes because it is so tiring,” said Abbott.
Another very unique thing happened, Abbott said. “For the first time in my 25-year career, I saw a person move purposefully while receiving CPR.”
“Clinically, [Whisnand] was dead; physiologically he was still very much alive,” he said.
Dr. Graydon Skeoch, medical director for the Fallbrook Hospital emergency room, said because Whisnand received CPR within two minutes of his collapse, “he had a good chance for survival.”
Skeoch said the emergency room physician on duty, Dr. Jaro Sasanka, worked immediately to feed a tube down Whisnand’s throat and into his lungs in order to supply oxygen to all his organs.
“Essentially, they were buying time until his heart started beating on its own again,” said Skeoch. And it was a challenging time.
“I was told that I ‘flatlined’ three times,” said Whisnand. “These people saved my life.”
Whisnand was eventually stabilized and after being in Fallbrook Hospital overnight, was transferred to Tri City Hospital.
“I spent the next four days at Tri City and have nothing good to say about that facility,” said Whisnand.
Whisnand was then transferred to Sharp Hospital in San Diego.
“I spent three weeks at Sharp’s and received good quality care and eventually had a pacemaker implanted 11 days later [on July 5],” said Whisnand. The problem, as it turned out, wasn’t arterial problems, as Whisnand’s tests came out clear of any blockages. Instead, the problem was electrical in nature.
“It was actually a short circuit in my heart,” he explained.
He then returned home to recuperate. In August, he began physical therapy and a three-month cardiac rehabilitation program offered by Fallbrook Hospital.
“The rehabilitation program made a big difference for me,” Whisnand said. “I got my stamina and endurance back; when I first got out of the hospital, I could barely walk.”
Whisnand explained that Fallbrook Hospital’s cardiac rehab program includes close monitoring of each patient.
“The nurses move you along as you are ready; they work to build up your endurance,” he said. “They are able to monitor a person here in a totally different way; they run EKG strips on you every 10 minutes or so. It’s a different level of monitoring than at a regular health club or gym.”
Whisnand is certain he wouldn’t have survived the cardiac arrest without the local paramedics and emergency room care at Fallbrook Hospital.
“Life is something you can’t put a price on,” said Whisnand. “I want to thank all the paramedics, the emergency room doctor and staff, and everyone that was praying for me. I would have never made it otherwise.”
Given the challenges Fallbrook Hospital has faced over the past year in keeping patients local, with large out-of-town hospitals vying for its customer base, one must realize what could have happened in Whisnand’s case if Fallbrook Hospital was not in existence.
Dr. Skeoch had no hesitation in offering his medical opinion.
“If this patient had to have been taken out of town, he would not be alive,” said Skeoch. “Our EMS (paramedic) technicians are very well trained, but getting an airway established properly is the key. Most EMT’s are pretty good at it, but the faster you get a patient to an emergency room and not bouncing around in the back of an ambulance is the difference between night and day.” Skeoch said in an ambulance there are challenges keeping tubes in place, making it more difficult to stabilize a patient.
“Being in the ER immediately increased his chances of survival immensely, versus a 45-minute transport,” he added. “There is no way he would have survived an extended transport out of town.”
In reviewing Whisnand’s case, Skeoch also said Dr. Sasanka “thought outside of the box,” adapting treatment methods to achieve maximum success.
“That made a difference in this guy’s life,” said Skeoch.
Abbott said the teamwork involved in Whisnand’s case was outstanding, in his opinion.
“Having paramedics so close and Fallbrook Hospital’s emergency room handy led to good teamwork by all parties involved,” said Abbott.
Abbott also said he was impressed how well Whisnand did after the prolonged CPR effort.
“He was obviously healthy enough to be able to withstand 45 minutes of CPR; that is pretty brutal,” said Abbott. “He must have been in good shape to start with – and it sure made a difference.”
Abbott also said the incident was the “most significant medical situation at a Fallbrook street event in recent history.”
“We are just really happy he is doing well,” he added.
Cardiac rehabilitation center director Nancy Barber, RN, said the program offered creates “camaraderie between the patients; they discover they have their own support group because they can relate to each other’s experiences.”
Barber said the thing she enjoys the most about her job is “it’s very personal.”
“I am sure glad we have our community hospital; the staff is caring and that makes it a great place to work,” she said, adding that having Jim Whisnand in the program has been a great experience for the staff.
Whisnand is doing well, very well. He said he still has goals he is working towards, and is determined to achieve them.
“I need to lose a few pounds and want to continue to build more endurance,” he said. “And I am really looking forward to being able to drive again in December.”
Volunteer drivers with the Fallbrook Hospital Auxiliary have been another blessing to Whisnand, picking him up and transporting him to his rehabilitation therapy sessions.
In true Fallbrook form, Whisnand, who is no stranger to volunteer work, being a regular volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul thrift store before his health incident, said, “I’d like to pay forward everything that everyone has done for me.”
The AutoPulse devices used by North County Fire paramedics were provided through a grant by the Fallbrook Healthcare District.
“We had another CPR save recently due specifically to the AutoPulse device,” said Stephen Abbott, battalion chief for North County Fire. “The device is certainly worth its weight in gold.”