Jeff Harrelson, 35, made a routine trip to the ice rink on a typical Friday afternoon to play hockey in Aliso Viejo.
The next thing he knew, he was in a hospital bed with doctors buzzing about, his wife, 3-year old daughter, family and friends watching in tears, relieved that he even woke up.
Jeff was the victim of a sudden and unexplainable cardiac arrest and a concussion that left him without any memory of the previous few weeks or of Dean Kazoleas, Ph.D., associate professor of public relations at Cal State Fullerton, who saved his life.
Kazoleas, also a hockey player, said he was at the ice rink watching his son practice when in the corner of his eye, he saw a man fall and didn’t get up. He and a few others rushed to the man’s aid expecting him to recover after taking a hit and being winded.
“Then I saw what looked like a seizure because I saw some twitching,” said Kazoleas, who proceeded to conduct rapid-compression CPR after a group of concerned bystanders alerted ice rink personnel.
Kazoleas said he and the others were able to get Jeff breathing twice before he couldn’t feel him breathing—or his heart beating.
“When I looked down, I saw he was turning blue. I actually reached in to feel for a pulse and there was none. And I said, ‘Oh my God, his heart’s stopped,’” said Kazoleas. “We gotta do CPR.”
Kazoleas said they flipped him over onto his back and he started CPR while an unknown gentleman known as Kevin held his head straight to allow for a clear airway.
After about two minutes, Jeff coughed a few times and took a couple of quick breaths, fluttered open his eyes and the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) arrived, Kazoleas said.
Shortly after they arrived, Jeff’s heart stopped again and they conducted CPR and used an automated external defibrillator (AED) and rushed him to a hospital.
“Every doctor at that hospital that we spoke with made it very clear that the person that had resuscitated my husband and provided the CPR chest compressions was the person that saved his life,” said Stephanie Harrelson, Jeff’s wife.
Stephanie said her husband, in his mid-30s, is generally a healthy man with no physical complications and the whole event was unexplainable by her and doctors who treated him.
When asked if he felt like a hero, Kazoleas rejected the title and claimed if he had not acted, others at the ice rink would have stepped up instead.
“It was … intense. I honestly don’t think I ever wanted anything more in my life than for him to come back. I didn’t know Jeff, and I just thought in my mind: this guy has a wife, this guy has kids and it was one of those things … it was very intense; I was scared, I was in panic-mode,” Kazoleas said. “I was afraid he was going to die.”
He said he had no formal CPR training recently, but had read a lengthy article in the news recently about the new form of CPR that prioritizes rapid compressions to the chest instead of supplying breath via mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
According to John Hopkins University of Medicine, which claims it invented CPR, an article published in late 2011 states that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is in some cases “unneeded.”
“For people who are not well-trained or who are looking for a simple way to help save a life, chest compressions only—at least until the emergency care unit arrives—can be lifesaving, even without rescue breathing,” said Myron Weisfeldt, M.D., a physician in chief at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, in John Hopkins Health quarterly publication.
Stephanie said she and Jeff had dated in high school and married in 2006. She said they live a comfortable life in their San Clemente home with their 3-year-old daughter.
Jeff said the doctors installed a personal defibrillator in his chest that monitors the condition of his heart in the event of another cardiac arrest because they are still unsure of the cause of his heart attack-like ordeal.
Although Jeff enjoys playing hockey, the doctors told him to take at least six weeks before returning to the ice.
“I owe my life to this guy,” said Jeff. “It means so much to me because my wife and daughter, I get to wake up everyday to them and do the things I want to do … Him (Kazoleas) doing that, changed the world, for the better, I don’t know, but I hope so.”
Kazoleas encourages students, faculty and anyone else to be familiar with CPR or to even take a class to learn the technique because one can never know when it may prove useful, he said.
“On that day I never imagined I would be doing that,” Kazoleas said.