Sudden cardiac arrest: A tale of three bystanders

Montreal, Thursday, May 27, 2004: 6:45 am

It's the early morning rush in downtown Montreal. Traffic is heavy; frustrated riders hop out of taxicabs in the hopes of making better time on foot. Pedestrians zip past each other, barely making eye contact.

Among the crowd are three strangers: Manon Larin, Jean Martel and Carl Chartier. Each is heading to work, their thoughts preoccupied with the day's scheduled meetings, errands to run after work, maybe a squash game over the lunch hour...

In the blink of an eye, as the three reach a downtown street corner, their lives collide in a way theyíll never forget.

Larin was waiting to cross the busy street when something on the opposite corner caught her eye: somebody had fallen. She thought, "that's funny, heís not getting right back up. He must be hurt."

Martel and Chartier, who were also walking by the same corner, stopped in their tracks. "I was about 20 feet from him," recalls Martel. "You could hear that noise. It will stay in my mind forever. A body falling, just like [the sound of] a big water balloon."

All three rush to the side of the man lying crumpled on the sidewalk. He has suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. Without help, he will be dead in ten minutes.

"My first thought was -- his family doesnít know," says Larin. "'How do I tell his family?' Because we didn't know who he was."

Chartier recalls feeling overwhelmed: "You think that life is yours to do whatever you want, and then one day you wake up and boom -- thatís it."

Larin called 9-1-1. While Chartier and Martel began performing CPR on the lifeless body, Larin spoke with the dispatcher. The voice on the other end of the phone calmly instructed Larin to get down close to the patient ... find out whether or not he is breathing...

Chartier remembers that, for several seconds, the man began breathing on his own -- the draws of breath were laboured, but the three bystanders took relief in the fact that some of the spring air was finding its way into the man's lungs.

And then, just as suddenly, the breathing stopped again. "He came back a few times," says Chartier, "and I believe four minutes later the paramedics got there."

Martel says when the paramedics arrived the trio of bystanders stepped back.

Martel caught a glimpse of the heart monitor after it was hooked up to the patient. "It was completely flat... I said to myself, the poor guyís dead."

On that early morning in Montreal, the three strangers jumped in and did their best when they saw a man fall to the ground.

In the end, they saved a life.

After the paramedics arrived, they shocked the man's heart with a machine called a defibrillator. And Richard Snell's heart began to pump again.

Snell says he doesn't remember what happened the day he collapsed, but he'll never forget Manon Larin, Jean Martel and Carl Chartier.

Snell says he's a very lucky man, and hopes the trio of bystanders who saved his life inspire others: "The truth is, if someone collapses from cardiac arrest, unless something happens they're dead. So what you try canít make things worse.† "If people think 'Iíll mess up by doing this or that not quite right,'" Snell says think again. What really counts is "stepping in and doing something."