Karen Garloch

Stepfather of bride survives marathon CPR

Left to right, David Lawson, wife Elise Lawson, and the newlyweds, Mike and Michelle Malta, about three hours before David Lawson’s heart attack.
Left to right, David Lawson, wife Elise Lawson, and the newlyweds, Mike and Michelle Malta, about three hours before David Lawson’s heart attack. Courtesy of Sunshower Photography

Seventeen years ago, Matt Malta met his future wife, Katy Morrison, when they were resuscitating heart patients at Carolinas Medical Center.

She was a medical resident, and he was a cardiovascular specialist, working with cardiologists at the Sanger Clinic.

The Maltas, who married in 2001, found themselves resuscitating another patient in a most unlikely place – the May 2 wedding of Matt’s cousin, Mike Malta, and Michelle Manley at the Dairy Barn in Fort Mill, S.C.

As Matt and Katy arrived, they noticed the building had, hanging on the wall, an automated external defibrillator. Familiar with cardiac care, they agreed it was good to have an AED in case of a medical emergency.

After dinner at the wedding reception, they were outside visiting with family when they heard someone scream for “Help.”

Matt rushed inside to find the bride’s stepfather, David Lawson, lying on the floor, already turning blue. Assuming he might be choking, Matt performed two Heimlich maneuvers. But when he heard air coming out of Lawson’s mouth, Matt knew he wasn’t choking. It was probably related to his heart.

“Get Katy,” he ordered, as he felt for a pulse and found none. His wife, now a family doctor in Charlotte, arrived quickly and began performing chest compressions.

Matt ran to get the AED. Today, he sells medical equipment and has used defibrillators many times, but never an automated one. He followed his instincts, first placing sticky pads on Lawson’s chest. That connected him to the AED and allowed the machine to analyze his heart rhythm.

Soon the AED spoke instructions in a computerized voice: “Shock advised. Everyone stand clear.” Then it delivered the shock to Lawson’s chest.

As Katy and another of Lawson’s stepdaughters continued CPR, the machine analyzed Lawson’s heart rhythm every two minutes. It ordered another shock. And then another. And another.

“Every single time we shocked, he went to normal rhythm,” Matt said. “It just didn’t hold. It only lasted for 10 or 15 seconds.”

After about 20 minutes, paramedics arrived and took over resuscitation. In all, Lawson’s heart was shocked seven times at the Dairy Barn and five more times in the ambulance, where his wife, Elise, sat up front with the driver. “I just knew that he was dead,” she recalled. “I told them that they didn’t have to continue that if he was already gone.”

Paramedics finally detected a pulse as they arrived at Carolinas HealthCare System Pineville. It had been about 40 minutes since Lawson collapsed.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Matt said later. “I was a paramedic in the Army. And I’ve never seen a good outcome with that much CPR.”

Dr. John Cedarholm, the Sanger cardiologist who treated Lawson’s blocked artery, said patients who aren’t resuscitated in 10 or 15 minutes typically have a “very, very low” survival rate.

Having people at the site who knew CPR is what kept Lawson’s brain alive, delivering fresh blood and oxygen, Cedarholm said. But the AED was also needed to shock his heart back into normal rhythm, he said. “He needed both.”

After eight days in the hospital, Lawson, 61, went home to Gastonia with no discernible brain damage. “It was certainly a miracle,” Lawson said. “Every piece of the puzzle absolutely fell into place.”

On May 18, Lawson, a design engineer, returned to work at Bowman Hollis Manufacturing, where the owners quickly arranged training for employees on how to perform CPR and how to use AEDs they already had on-site. The Lawsons’ church, Union Presbyterian in Gastonia, has also purchased an AED and plans to hold training in the fall.

“Everybody ought to learn CPR, and we ought to have more AEDs in public places,” said cardiologist Cedarholm. “The people that did all the great work were the people at the site. They were the heroes here.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078

CPR facts

▪ The use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation dates to 1740, but even today, most Americans don’t know how to perform it.

▪ Chest compressions have replaced mouth-to-mouth breathing as the recommended way to perform CPR. As an easy-to-remember guide, the American Heart Association says: “Push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of ‘Stayin’ Alive.’”

▪ Victims of cardiac arrest have a greater chance of survival when CPR includes use of an automated external defibrillator, or AED.

▪ Find an American Heart Association-approved CPR training session at www.heart.org/cpr.

▪ Watch a demonstration of hands-only CPR. need to memo out for print

▪ Watch an AED demonstration. need to memo out for print