Dick Winters is an avid cyclist who rides his bike 4 to 5 times a week for an average of 20+ miles each day.
At 70 years old, he joined the COCAC 5:15 ride to find a group of like-minded cycling enthusiasts in Charlotte, who have been riding together for over 15 years.
But one morning, things didn’t go as planned when Winters suddenly fell off his bike and hit the ground. The five other people who were riding with him gathered on a median on Johnston Road, just north of Highway 51. One cyclist in the group called 911 and waited for help to arrive. But before the cavalry of paramedics, firefighters, and police officers arrived on the scene, one woman happened to drive by, and she knew what needed to be done.
A chance encounter with life-saving results
Julia Rouse is a recent graduate of the nursing program at Carolinas College of Health Sciences who previously served as a paramedic for many years. She was driving into Charlotte to teach an advanced cardiac life support class – she’d taken a different route than usual because the back roads were foggy – when she saw the group of cyclists on the side of the road.
“I’m pretty equipped to help with emergencies,” Rouse says. She thought maybe someone had been hit by a car, so she pulled over to see how she could help, explaining her background as a paramedic and training as a nurse.
When Rouse saw Winters, he was struggling to breathe and unconscious. She felt for his pulse and went to get her equipment that she happened to have on-hand from her car, putting one of the other bike riders in charge of monitoring Winter’s pulse. She came back with her equipment, checked his pulse, and felt it stop. She immediately started CPR, enlisting the help another rider, talking him through how to do CPR as they performed it.
Shortly after, the Charlotte fire department, police department, and MEDIC showed up and continued to administer CPR to Winter. The paramedics determined that Winter had experienced sudden cardiac arrest. They administered medicine to him, intubated him, and revived him with a defibrillator and took him to nearby Atrium Health Pineville.
The importance of CPR
“I was riding with five other people, but it appears I was the only one who knew CPR,” says Winter. “If Julia hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t be sharing this story.”
“If you ever see somebody who is unconscious, check for a pulse and start CPR,” says Dr. Ashleigh Maiers, a cardiologist with Atrium Health’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute – Pineville who cared for Winter in the ICU. “When in doubt, do chest compressions and call for help. It’s always better if people try, most of the time, even if the CPR is not perfect.”
“I was raised to be a helper, and one of the ways I do that is by performing CPR and teaching it to other people,” says Rouse. “Anyone can learn CPR.”
Cardiac arrest protocol helps prevent further damage
Once Winter arrived at the hospital, a “Code Cool,” or hypothermia protocol, was initiated.
“The hypothermia protocol is done on anyone who survives a cardiac arrest from outside of the hospital,” says Maiers.
The protocol, which involves sedating a patient and keeping him at a reduced temperature for 24 hours, can help improve chances of survival, prevent organ damage and help improve neurological function.
Although Winter was unconscious when he arrived at the hospital, his wife and family arrived soon after, and helped the team at Atrium Health Pineville piece together what had happened.
“As soon as I heard that he’d had someone there who called 911 immediately, and that Julia was on the scene to evaluate Dick and start CPR, I knew that his chances of survival were very good,” says Maiers. “The fact that Julia was there is really the reason he is alive today.”
Getting back in the saddle
About 12 hours after Winter was brought back up to normal body temperature and brought out of his medically induced coma, he was alert and talking – although he didn’t remember the ordeal he’d just been through.
“My cardiac arrest happened on a Monday, and I don’t remember anything until the following Saturday,” he says.
Maiers did a full evaluation and found that “structurally, everything was normal” and there were no blockages in Winter’s heart. He did have PVCs, or premature ventricular contractions, which are extra beats that originate in the heart’s lower chambers. As a precaution, Winter had a defibrillator implanted by the team at Atrium Health Pineville.
“The defibrillator will monitor Dick’s heart, and if he has another cardiac incident, the defibrillator will shock his heart and save his life,” says Maiers.
As for Rouse, she’s excited to start her new career as a nurse at the neuro ICU at Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center. She even gave Winter the honors of pinning her at her pinning ceremony when she graduated from Carolinas College of Health Sciences. Rouse also continues to teach CPR classes to the community and even taught two to the COAC group, which Winter and his wife attended.
Winter is back to riding his bike again – although, since he recently retired, he says “I’m not setting my alarm at 4:20 a.m. to get out there.”
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