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Gainesville man owes his life to personal trainers, gym patron

Counte Cooley survives heart attack thanks to strangers

POSTED: July 6, 2014 1:00 a.m.

“I didn’t have a pulse and I wasn’t breathing. But I was by the time they got through with me,” Counte Cooley said of surviving a recent cardiac arrest.

Just four days before, Cooley, owner of Electronic Sales Co. in Gainesville, had returned from Fullerton, Calif. He had won first in his division in the National Racquetball Championship.

After his victory, the 69-year-old got back into the swing of routine and went to play with his regular league Monday night at LA Fitness in Buford. After telling the other players about his experience at the championship, Cooley and another player decided to play a game.

“He’d beat me a couple of times before, a few weeks ago, so I was really focused on the game,” Cooley said. “I beat him. Then I came out and we were high-fiving and bantering back and forth about the game. I went up to the front desk ... halfway there I hit the ground. I have no recollection. I went from walking to nothing to people bouncing on my chest.”

Cooley said his cardiologist at Northeast Georgia Medical Center later told him it was likely he suffered cardiac arrest because of ventricular tachycardia, a rapid heart rate.

According to the American Heart Association, nearly 360,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the United States and fewer than 8 percent of people survive. Fortunately, effective CPR can double or triple the odds of survival.

Cooley experienced the fortunate fate of having a heart attack in a place where three people knew and performed CPR. They increased his odds of survival, ultimately saving his life.

Cooley has a very hazy memory of the event, but has pieced together the steps people took to save his life.

The Gainesville man lost consciousness and fell into a column, leaving a 2«-inch gash in the back of his head. Two personal trainers and a bystander at the gym who are CPR certified immediately ran to Cooley’s aid.

Marvin Elam, a personal trainer at LA Fitness, said he was working with a client about 50 feet away from where Cooley collapsed.

“I heard a commotion,” Elam said. “I looked over and saw a lot of people gather around. People do faint at times at the gym. It’s something you see occasionally and you don’t get to alarmed when someone faints. But I wanted to make sure someone from LA Fitness was there to assist. So I excused myself and started walking over. Then I heard someone scream ‘Help, Help.’ So I knew it was probably more serious than that.”

Elam said he could see Cooley wasn’t breathing.

Melissa Hazen, another personal trainer at the gym, ran to retrieve the gym’s automated external defibrillator. Tracey Tuggle , a gym patron who could not be reached for comment, checked for a pulse and didn’t find one.

The AED confirmed Cooley’s heart had stopped and delivered a jolt of electricity to kick-start it. Elam gave chest compressions until the paramedics arrived a few moments later.

Cooley said the paramedics later told him they were at the intersection across from the gym when they got the call. The ambulance only had to turn on its lights and pull into the parking lot.

The ambulance took Cooley to the nearby emergency room at Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville.

The American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out seconds are critical in survival and prevention of long-term damage in a cardiac arrest event.

“The paramedics and the emergency room doctors told me I should find those three people and give them a big gratitude of my thanks,” Cooley said. “My wife and I went to see them. I took them a dinner and some flowers and balloons and told them they were my heroes and my angels.”

Elam said “it felt great” to see Cooley walk into the gym.

“It was pretty traumatic,” Elam said. “You’re watching life leave somebody. I’ve had training in CPR but training on dummies and a living person are totally different. Somehow you have to be focused on what you have to do.”

Hazen, who served in the Marine Corps for 11 years, was trained to handle emergency situations like the one Cooley was in. She called the shots and applied the AED while Tuggle gave breaths and Elam gave chest compressions.

“If you want to freak out, you freak out later,” Hazen said.

Cooley said the experience has “restored his faith” and has shown him how willing people are to help.

“I just feel overwhelmingly blessed,” Cooley said. “The further I get away from the incident, the more I am realizing the impact of the whole thing and how fortunate I was to be where I was when it happened.”

Cooley is recovering and still has to have a number of medical tests. He also has to take time away from playing racquetball.

Cooley said he has become an “AED advocate” and intends to keep one in his business and encourage other business owners to have the devices as well. He said he’s also an advocate for CPR training.

Elam said being trained in CPR gave him the confidence to step in and help and that he believes others should also receive the training.

“I think any person would be in shock and be too afraid to help. They’d be afraid of doing something worse,” Elam said. “Those people that are certified in CPR, if you do see a situation, don’t hesitate to help. The second you waste could be the second between someone living and dying.”


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