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Ray Evans, left, talks with Danville Area Community College Coordinator of Community Education Laura Hensgen and DACC Director of Small Business Development Mike O’Brien. Hensgen and O’Brien used an automated external defibrillator to save Evans’ life after he went into cardiac arrest Sept. 1 at the Village Mall.

It’s been almost a month since Ray Evans suffered a cardiac arrest while walking at the Village Mall, but it’s something he thinks about every day. The brush with death made him reflect on how fortunate he was that help was nearby.

The two people who saved his life think about it often, too, marveling at how Evans could have died if circumstances had been different.

All three agreed, however, that an automated external defibrillator (AED) saved his life — and everyone needs to become more familiar with the device, and not be frightened by it.

Heart history

Evans, 77, of Danville, has been battling heart issues for 15 years, having had open heart surgery and three heart attacks. He walks every morning at the mall with his wife, Vivian.

On Sept. 1, shortly after 8 a.m., Evans was walking in the corridor near the Danville Area Community College office when he felt extremely tired. He paused at an informational kiosk before trying to reach a bench. That’s the last thing he remembers.

Meanwhile, Laura Hensgen and Mike O’Brien were starting their day at the DACC office; she is coordinator of community education and O’Brien is director of the Small Business Development Center.

They heard a couple of women shouting for help, and O’Brien rushed to Evans’ side. He was unconscious and his breathing was labored; O’Brien started chest compressions.

Hensgen called 911 from an office phone, kicked off her flip-flops and sprinted to the mall’s center court. She grabbed the AED from the wall.

Hensgen had training on a defibrillator while working at St. Paul’s School five years ago, and O’Brien learned during an orientation at DACC last year.

Although both have had training on the device, they stressed anyone can use it. The device has clear directions and also gives verbal instructions.

O’Brien placed the pads on Evans’ chest and the AED analyzed the heart rhythms. The AED indicated an electrical shock was needed, and O’Brien pushed a button. That got the heart going.

The AED is designed for the lay person and talks a user through each step. If no shock is needed, it will say so.

Paramedics arrived and administered oxygen; Medix transported Evans to Provena United Samaritans Medical Center, where he was stabilized before being moved to Indianapolis.

A lucky man

He was in the hospital seven days, and had a defibrillator and pacemaker inserted. Dr. Brij Sodhi called him a lucky man, Evans said.

“Had it not been for the defibrillator and those two guys who took training on it, I would have been history,” Evans said.

“From the start to the finish, this has been a big deal. Everything came together.”

He wrestles with the bigger questions, too: “What does God have planned for me? Or what is he trying to tell me?”

Hensgen said she, too, plays that day over and over in her head. From the time Evans went down to the time of the defibrillator shock, three minutes had elapsed, she guessed. Each minute that passes is crucial.

“God played a big role in this,” she said.

All the factors were on Evans’ side. He just happened to be walking near the DACC office — the only one open at that hour. The office was manned by two people who were familiar with the AED and knew where it was located in the mall.

If he had fallen in a different corridor, help might have been delayed.

The AED has been in the mall — mounted on a wall in an unlocked cabinet at the former food court — about six years, and the security guard checks its battery every day. Provena is in charge of it. That day was the first time it had been used.

Don’t be afraid

The incident is a reminder that people need to know where an AED is located in a building and how to use it.

However, Hensgen said, “Without training, the AED is easy to use. Pictures show where to put the patch. If a shock is needed, a light flashes.

“It couldn’t be easier to use. Don’t be afraid of it. It’s very simple.”

Judy Pendleton, a registered nurse at Danville High School and the Evanses’ daughter, agreed. She advised people to take the initiative if they see someone having cardiac arrest and use the AED, even though it seems foreign.

“It’s self-explanatory,” she said.

After her father’s incident, she sent e-mails to the District 118 staff, advising them to know the locations of the AEDs in the buildings and encouraging them to contact the nurse for further information.

As for Hensgen and O’Brien, she said, “They truly, without a doubt, saved his life.”

Troy Dunn, coordinator for Provena Regional EMS, said the incident shows how important it is to have AED units in public places.

“Time saves lives. If you can get one on somebody within 4-6 minutes, there is a 90 percent success rate,” he said.

Provena Regional EMS provides training, maintenance and oversight on more than 900 AED units in Central Illinois.

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