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Crucial minutes: CPR saves veteran’s life

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‘I highly recommend that anybody take CPR. Young, old — I don’t care who it is,’ wife says

By Elizabeth Beilman

Jerry Parker is a veteran and Purple Heart recipient, past marathon runner, frequent walker and a practitioner of good habits.

“He’s the picture of health,” said Melanie Parker Hibbard, his daughter.

That’s why the 64-year-old’s sudden collapse recently at Creekside Park in Hodgenville came as an utter surprise.

After breaking into a run with grandson Trevor Knox, who was conditioning for football for Central Hardin High School, Parker leaned into the 15-year-old.

“And I thought, ‘He’s just tired,’” his wife, Mary Parker, said. “Next thing I knew, he collapsed on the ground.”

The fall stunned Jerry, too, who said minutes earlier he was feeling particularly well.

“I hit the ground and I don’t remember anything,” he said. “I thought the sirens were coming for somebody else.”

But the sirens were for Jerry, who collapsed a second time just 100 feet farther than the first fall and started to turn blue.

“At that point, I knew something was wrong,” Mary said.

She quickly pulled open his jacket and began performing CPR techniques that pooled back into her memory after about 30 years of dormancy.

“I said, ‘OK, Trevor. Breathe for him. Breathe for him,’” she said.

Chest compressions, breath, chest compressions, breath. For about three minutes.

Finally, color began to flood back to Jerry’s face and he woke up.

“I just tried to keep a calm head. My grandson was upset, but he pulled it together and between the two of us, we saved him,” Mary said. “I don’t know if I could have done it by myself. I just thank God he was there.”

However, it wasn’t just the presence of Mary and Trevor that saved Jerry’s life — it was their knowledge of how to perform CPR.

“I never thought I would ever use it,” she said.

Neither did Trevor.

“Honestly, the first time I learned it, I blew it off because I was young,” he said. “The second time, I paid attention and it paid off.”

CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is the act of maintaining circulation of blood and oxygen in the body through an alternation between chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, said Donnie Board, training specialist at the American Red Cross’s Hardin-LaRue Chapter.

And those few moments of sustained circulation are essential in preserving brain cells and, consequently, lives.

Although it may seem unlikely to be involved in similar circumstances, Board said the need for CPR occurs more often than one might think.

“One quarter of Americans say they’ve been in a situation where someone needs CPR,” she said. “Would you know what to do when that happens?”

Board said in his case, Jerry is very lucky to be alive.

Other than the most obvious reason to learn CPR — having the potential to save lives — Board said knowing the procedure can give someone peace of mind.

“I think the most important thing is so that you won’t have to always ask yourself, ‘If I had known what to do, could I have made a difference?’” she said. “One of the worst feelings in the world is to witness something and that feeling of not knowing what to do.”

Mary, who learned CPR when she entered the education field, now is a strong advocate of learning the techniques.

“I highly recommend that anybody take CPR. Young, old — I don’t care who it is. You may not ever use it,” she said. “It’s good to know that you do know it if you ever have to.

“It helped me to know that I had the strength to do it if I ever had to do it again.”

Jerry is now in Louisville scheduled for open-heart surgery at Jewish Hospital. With the knowledge that he has had a leaking aortic valve for a while, he said the collapse put the previously minor problem to the forefront.

“I guess that was the telling time,” he said.

Anyone interested in taking a CPR class or seeking more information on the subject can call 1-800-RED-CROSS or visit redcross.org.

Elizabeth Beilman can be reached at (270) 505-1740 or ebeilman@thenewsenterprise.com.