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Emory emergency medicine physicians reunite with Peachtree Road Race cardiac arrest survivor

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Janet Christenbury

Sixty-one-year-old Tim Nelms was nearing the finish line of the 2017 Peachtree Road Race on July 4 when he slowed down, then went down on the pavement. Nelms was in cardiac arrest.

Steps behind, Emory emergency medicine physician Douglas Ander, MD, who works in Grady Memorial Hospital’s emergency department, was running the race with his daughters. Ander’s daughters saw Nelms collapse and alerted their dad. Ander rushed over, checked his pulse and didn’t find one, then immediately began CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

Moments later, Emory emergency medicine residents, who were stationed in the main medical tent located near the finish line, along with Mark Waterman, MD, medical director for Atlanta Fire Rescue, and Emory cardiologist Rebecca Levit, MD, arrived with an automated external defibrillator (AED). They quickly shocked Nelms’ heart back into rhythm. The actions of the care team, also made up of Emory residents Jennifer "Jae" Goines, MD; Tyler Giberson, MD; Amanda Ross, MD, and led by emergency medicine faculty member Melissa White, MD, helped in saving Nelms’ life.

In mid-December, Nelms and the team of first responders were reunited. Better Outcomes, an advocacy organization focused on raising awareness of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and subsequent survivals by CPR and AEDs, brought them all together to reconnect and to award certificates of recognition to the care team members for their quick responses.

“I am so grateful to the team of first responders who came to my rescue and saved my life,” says Nelms. “While I didn’t experience any early warning signs such as chest pain or shortness of breath, I just remember becoming really tired and needing to stop running. When I awoke, I was in an ambulance and thought I’d had a heat stroke.”

“It is wonderful to see Mr. Nelms again, this time under better circumstances,” says Ander. “As an emergency medicine physician, we don’t often have the opportunity to see those we treat after they recover. While this situation was a little different, it was great to be able to reconnect.”

Nelms received a stent following his cardiac arrest on July 4, and was discharged from the hospital the very next evening.

“These reunion events raise awareness and remind us that heart disease and sudden cardiac arrests are leading causes of death in this community, which impact across all socio-economic and demographic groups and neighborhoods,” says Michael Charles, president/program manager for Better Outcomes and the executive director of The Better Outcomes Foundation, Inc. “Immediate bystander CPR and AED are the best hopes for survival.”

There have been about a dozen survivors of sudden cardiac arrests in the 48-year history of the Peachtree Road Race, according to Charles. He says this incident was rare in that it was the on-site doctors that reached and successfully resuscitated the survivor prior to dedicated EMS arrival.

Because of Nelms’ incident, neither Ander or Nelms completed the 2017 Peachtree Road Race. But in July 2018, they are considering running the race together — this time in hopes of both crossing the finish line!

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