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Aug 18, 2010 2:02 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Heart attack victim's brother doesn't miss a beat

Aug 18, 2010 2:02 PM

Ned Kirsch said he had the Bee Gees’s hit song “Stayin’ Alive” running through his head as he pounded on his brother’s chest.

As instructed in CPR certification courses over the years, Mr. Kirsch used the beat of the song to set the pace of the pumps at about 100 beats per minute. Moments earlier, his brother, Jeff Kirsch, collapsed of a heart attack in the garage of their mother’s Westhampton Beach home, minutes after a kickball game that morning in late June.

In an interview on their mother’s porch last week, Ned, 44, and Jeff, 53, who has made a full recovery and was preparing to return home to Florida, cited the near-death experience as an example of why people should learn CPR—and learn to do it right.

Ned said he and his brother were playing kickball with Ned’s children, Abby, 8, and Colby, 6, in the driveway of the Aspatuck Road home of their mother, Anne Kirsch, on the morning of June 25. It was something of a family reunion. Ned, a school district superintendent, was visiting from Essex, Vermont, and Jeff, a lawyer, was visiting from Stuart, Florida.

As the players dispersed, Jeff walked into the garage—and that’s where his memory falters.

“I remember finishing up kickball, and that’s the last thing I remember until they were unloading me from the ambulance in Riverhead,” he said.

But it was those intervening minutes, doctors said, that made all the difference.

Ned said he heard his brother fall and rushed into the garage. He said he saw Jeff lying face down between a car and the wall, his eyeglasses shattered.

“I just rolled him over, and I could immediately tell something was wrong,” Ned said. He ran inside and yelled for his sister’s son, Jake Mangan, 19, who was finishing up breakfast, to call 911. Jake, a lifeguard and Eagle Scout who was visiting from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, then came outside to support his uncle’s neck and keep his airway open while Ned pumped on his chest.

Ned, who had been certified to perform CPR for the last 10 years because of his work in schools, said he immediately broke his brother’s ribs when he started pumping—a common occurrence, according to his instructors. He said he continued until two Westhampton War Memorial Ambulance paramedics arrived minutes later—although he said the wait seemed like “forever.”

They inserted a breathing tube down Jeff’s throat and took over with the compressions, shocking him with a defibrillator to restore his pulse before loading him into an ambulance, Ned said.

By the time paramedics arrived, Jeff’s lips and feet were blue, according to Ned. “I thought he was dead at that point,” he said.

In fact, he was, according to Dr. Frank C. Seifert, a surgeon who later performed emergency quadruple bypass surgery on Jeff.

“He had some subtle symptoms beforehand, but nothing really to announce it—and, unfortunately, heart disease is like this,” he said. “The first presentation can be sudden death. Now, [Jeff] is a survivor of sudden death.”

The ambulance brought Jeff to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, where he was diagnosed and immediately transferred to Stony Brook University Medical Center to undergo emergency heart surgery, according to Dr. Brian McMahon, chief of the emergency department at Peconic Bay.

Dr. McMahon said Jeff’s heart attack was caused by an obstruction in the blood vessels leading to his heart, starving it of oxygen and resulting in cardiac arrest—a state in which the heart muscle merely “quivers” instead of beating, he said.

He called the application of CPR “absolutely life-saving” in this instance. Ned effectively did the heart’s work for it, artificially squeezing blood through Jeff’s body and maintaining oxygen flow to the brain and other organs, Dr. McMahon said. Every minute that a cardiac arrest victim’s blood lies still in his or her veins, the risk of death rises “dramatically,” he said.

The paramedics then shocked the heart back into some semblance of a rhythm. Defibrillation, Dr. McMahon explained, “resets the electrical pattern of the heart and allows it to reorganize itself.” As a result, Jeff was “awake and alert” by the time he arrived at Peconic Bay, the doctor said. Later, at Stony Brook, doctors performed a catheterization to clear up the main blockage to his heart.

“It’s a miracle—it really is,” Dr. McMahon said of Jeff’s recovery.

The next day, Dr. Seifert used an artery from Jeff’s chest wall and a vein from his leg to redirect blood flow around the diseased vessels leading to his heart. The doctor said cardiac arrest patients are sometimes caught in a mental haze for weeks after their attacks, due to a shortage of oxygen to their brains. But not so for Jeff, most likely due to the prompt application of CPR.

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We should all be so lucky to have a brother like Ned. Way to go! CPR saves lives! Learn it, keep it fresh! :D
By WoWHero (4), Southampton on Aug 25, 10 2:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
Good Job!!!
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Aug 26, 10 10:43 AM
1 member liked this comment
Thank goodness Ned was there to help his brother. I'm going to look into taking a CPR class myself. You never know when you are going to need it.
I'm glad this story had a happy ending.
By marymare (12), east hampton on Aug 26, 10 12:08 PM
A great ending, a fairy tale even... Way to be aware of a "weird noise" from the garage... Awareness is key in times of need, and time is of the essence.
I've given the Heimlich four times in my life, so far... And, all, from learning it in an 8th grade gym class, 12 years ago, and, I'd be ready to do it again in a heartbeat! I think a brush up on my CPR would be a great idea, too. Nothing is more amazing, than having the opportunity to save someone's life, and knowing exactly what to do.
By The Royal 'We' (199), Southampton on Aug 26, 10 3:29 PM
Where can we take a CPR course?
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Aug 28, 10 11:53 PM