‘Undead Ed’ urges people to learn CPR technique
ASPEN – When a guy earns the nickname “Undead Ed,” it would be wise to heed his tip for potentially saving a life.
Longtime Aspen resident Ed Zasacky is encouraging everyone from high school students to the elderly to learn about a new style of administering CPR. He came close to death from sudden cardiac arrest and was brought back to life by a friend who knew how to use the technique.
Now Zasacky wants to use his new knowledge to help save other lives.
“If there’s one thing I can do, it’s to build people’s awareness,” he said.
Zasacky, 60, is a fitness fanatic, follows a healthy diet and never had a hint of heart problems. But while playing tennis at the Smuggler Racquet Club on Thursday, Sept. 30, he suddenly blacked out, fell to his knees, then slumped to the ground. His heart was out of rhythm from ventricular fibrillation.
His tennis partner dashed to the office of club manager John Phillips and asked him to call 911. Phillips ran to Zasacky’s side while making the call, and found no heartbeat or breathing, so he immediately started continuous chest compression CPR.
“It was just second nature,” Phillips said.
He learned about the technique from previous chats with the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol and from viewing recent media coverage.
It’s a hands-only technique that doesn’t employ mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The emphasis is on squeezing the chest and making the heart beat so blood continues to pump to the victim’s brain. The compressions are required about 100 times per minute and locked hands should be lifted from the chest after each push.
The technique was developed by the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine. A short video on the university’s website demonstrates the simple technique: http://tinyurl.com/2fx8r59.
Phillips said he compressed Zasacky’s chest about 300 times until he was relieved by two Aspen police officers who arrived on scene within minutes. The officers continued the compressions until the ambulance crew arrived within six minutes of getting called.
Phillips downplayed his role and said he did what most people would do.
“Where you’d feel bad is if you didn’t do anything,” he said.
His advice is to learn about the continuous chest compression CPR and rehearse using it so you are prepared if the unfortunate time ever comes.
Zasacky remembers nothing of the incident.
“When they say sudden cardiac arrest, they mean sudden,” he said.
He didn’t have any visions or see light at the end of a tunnel. He jokes that every thing was black and “getting kind of hot,” so he thinks he might have been headed the wrong direction.
Based on what he has been told of the incident, Zasacky estimates he was dead for more than four minutes – no pulse and no breathing. While Phillips is humble, Zasacky credits him for saving his life.
Several other circumstances fell perfectly into place to prevent Zasacky from suffering brain damage or severe physical damage. The ambulance crew used a defibrillator to shock Zasacky to restore his heart to a more normal rhythm, then delivered him to Aspen Valley Hospital. Cardiologist Gordon Gerson used medication and further shocks to restore the heartbeat, then packed Zasacky in ice for a Flight for Life to Colorado University Hospital in Denver.
Gerson said packing ice around specific areas of a victim’s body is essential when they are being transported to make sure they don’t suffer neurological damage.
Zasacky was out of the hospital and back home in just five days. A pacemaker and defibrillator were installed in his heart. He is undergoing physical therapy to rebuild his conditioning. He expects to ski this winter and resume a lot of his favorite activities, though he cannot “red line” his heart any longer. He will have to play doubles tennis, which he said is fine because his singles game stunk anyway.
Gerson said Zasacky was fortunate to recover so fully.
“It’s certainly the exception rather than the rule for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests,” he said.
Gerson’s research showed people who undergo instant defibrillation after suffering cardiac arrest, such as patients already under care at a hospital, have a 90 percent chance of survival upon release.
If defibrillation occurs six minutes of cardiac arrest, the survival rate slips to 45 percent. The chances for survival plummets to 10 percent if defibrillation isn’t started until 10 minutes after the incident.
The lesson, he said, is immediate CPR is vital, but quick defibrillation is also essential.
“Everybody should learn CPR. It’s simple and effective,” Gerson said.
His word of caution is that a blocked air way cannot be automatically ruled out. Sometimes, a victim might be choking, so continuous chest compression CPR alone might not be enough.
Along with learning CPR, Gerson said the community would benefit from a “proliferation” of automated external defibrillators or AEDs. It is a portable electronic device that uses defibrillation to stop arrhythmia and allows the heart to re-establish an effective rhythm.
The devices cost about $1,500. Local police departments and ski patrols possess them. Gerson advocates having them on hand at public buildings and businesses since their quick use can be so vital in helping people survive cardiac arrest.
It would also be wise for groups of people in their 60s and 70s that venture into the backcountry on hikes and trips to ski huts to have someone in their party carry an AED in a backpack. They could save a life in a situation where death is otherwise certain.
“A lot of these people are healthy right up to the point they’re not,” Gerson said.
Zasacky is one of the lucky ones. He said some medical personnel have asked him after the ordeal if he has been depressed after coming so close to death. For the typically good-natured Zasacky, it’s been to the contrary.
“I’m still euphoric about what happened,” he said.
Or at least about the outcome.
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Max Weintraub has been senior curator at the Aspen Art Museum since January 2019.