For more than one minute, Tim Cernohous appeared dead; face down on the pavement just yards from the finish line at Grandma’s Marathon, held during Father’s Day Weekend in Duluth.
The completion chute at Grandma’s is a congested, noisy area stretching the equivalent of two city blocks in the city’s Canal Park district.
Cernohous was in the stretch, just a few yards from completing the Gary Bjorklund Half Marathon when he collapsed and lay motionless on the gritty street of Canal Park Drive. Initially, spectators who saw him falter thought he had simply collapsed from exhaustion and were waiting for him to regain enough strength to finish the race.
But as other runners continued to snake past him and he made no movement to get upright, a finish line that had been filled with clanging cow bells and cheers of encouragement was reduced to near-silence as spectators began to process the gravity of his situation.
In the distance, beyond the stunned crowd, grayish clouds merged with Lake Superior’s expansive surface. Sunlight streaked across the sky in some regions, yet bursts of rain filled the lake elsewhere. A ship remained anchored miles off shore, and seagulls squawked overhead. Music from a tent blasted from a block away and the smell of coffee, popcorn and sweet pastries wrestled with each other in the Saturday morning air. Life plowed ahead as it always does.
But for Cernohous it had stuttered to a sudden halt.
Within seconds, another runner, seeing the motionless Cernohous, rushed to his side and quickly alerted others the downed runner was not breathing. Fire department first responders, just a few feet away, quickly converged, rolled the 33-year-old on his back and began chest compressions.
Spectators were in shock. It was a surreal vision. Just seconds before, this was a joyous runway of emotion as runners drenched with sweat completed their 13-mile run. Most looked exhausted but equally elated that they had finally reached their destination.
But not now. It had become this odd juxtaposition of life and death sharing the same space at the same time. Life was evident in all the athletes who continued to power through the finish line funnel as family and friends looked on with pride. Then there was the threat of death, sprawled out on the city street before hundreds of spectators who felt helpless and afraid.
Spent runners who were unaware of the magnitude of what was taking place continued to splice through the hushed finish-line crowd, offering curious glances at the commotion that had now surrounded Cernohous.
For spectators looking on, everything seemed to unfold suddenly yet slowly. In some respects, time felt as though it was being choked in quicksand.
In reality, it didn’t take long before compressions were started, and quickly, Cernohous’s body twitched, his leg moved, and air filled his lungs.
As abruptly as he had gone down, he had regained consciousness, and within seconds he was making a case to finish the race – which he ultimately did, flanked by rescue workers and others.
It was an unusual circumstance to see CPR administered to an athletic, lifeless body in the most public of settings.
Usually, when somebody stops breathing, it’s not in public, it’s at home. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, 88 percent of cardiac arrests occur at home. That’s why it’s so important that more of us learn CPR. It’s not known exactly what caused Cernohous to stop breathing, but he was fortunate that his situation occurred near others who were trained in CPR.
The American Heart Association estimates that 383,000 out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests occur every year, and 88 percent occur in our homes. That means if you or somebody else in your home does not know CPR, the chances that your loved one will survive is greatly reduced. In fact, if you administer CPR, a person’s chances of survival are doubled or tripled, according to the Heart Association.
Summer is busy for most people and a good time to refresh or educate ourselves on the latest techniques associated with CPR. The Heart Association offers this short video, http://bit.ly/1OZ8SAY, which demonstrates what is now recommended when it comes to CPR. It also offers official CPR/AED training classes. There are also numerous classes offered locally through hospitals and clinics.
For Cernohous, help was just a few feet away. For most, that is not the case. But you can change that with some advance preparation and a willingness to act when needed.
You could be the finish line for somebody else and what you know could be the difference between life and death.
Keith Anderson is director of news at ECM Publishers.