Robin Cummings, Alice Cummings, Jane Cummings, Alan Dow, M.D., (standing), John Cummings and Steven Cummings.

Facebook post reunites cardiac arrest survivor and the VCU Health physician who gave him CPR

VCU Health Pauley Heart Center leads in CPR training, cardiac arrest treatment

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Halfway through a recreational bicycle ride with his daughter on Mother’s Day, John Cummings didn’t feel well enough to finish their planned 20-mile course, so he returned home. Hours later at a family brunch at Grandstaff & Stein Book Sellers RVA, he felt even worse.   

“My memory is mostly blank from the time we left to go to the restaurant,” he said.

While in the restaurant booth with his wife and children, Cummings, 70, went into cardiac arrest, collapsing into his wife’s arms. A family friend who was also dining with the Cummings frantically yelled for help, and a VCU Health physician came running — literally.

Alan Dow, M.D., a professor of medicine and health administration at Virginia Commonwealth University, was also having brunch with his family at the restaurant. He rushed to Cummings and performed CPR that energized his pulse and stabilized him until emergency responders arrived and shocked his heart. Cummings’ pulse returned, and he was transported to VCU Medical Center by paramedics.

Three months later, Cummings is recovering and almost as energetic as ever. He and his family are grateful for Dow’s quick thinking, his willingness to help and VCU Health’s comprehensive recuperative care. Cummings had his first cardiac arrest in 2003. After this most recent heart scare, he and his family are determined to add another health safeguard to their lifestyle: CPR training.

There is no question that the actions by Dr. Dow are what saved my father’s life.

“We talk about what could have been, often. No one in my family would have been able to apply immediate and accurate CPR right away,” said Alice Cummings, John Cummings’ daughter. “There is no question that the actions by Dr. Dow are what saved my father’s life. Everyone in the hospital caring for my father after the event agreed. The paramedics were quick to respond and extremely efficient, but all circumstances leading up to the time they arrived were life-changing.

“My family and I cannot express our gratitude enough to Dr. Dow for everything he did that day. And I assure you, we are all being trained in CPR now in order to be prepared for anything down the road.”


Hands-only CPR training, advocacy

VCU Health is an active proponent of CPR education. This year, through a sponsorship with the American Heart Association, VCU Health Pauley Heart Center will distribute 100 infant and 100 adult CPR kits to local community organizations. Richmond’s YWCA, Urban Baby Beginnings and Richmond Family and Fatherhood Initiative are among the organizations that will receive the kits, which include an instructional DVD and an inflatable “Mini Anne” used to simulate giving CPR. Because staff at many of the organizations are already CPR certified, all organizations must commit to hosting at least two training sessions per year.

“It is our work to arm our community members with confidence on when and how to respond to a cardiac emergency,” said Michelle Gossip, a registered nurse who leads VCU Health Pauley Heart Center education initiatives on the importance of hands-only CPR training at community-based health fairs and faith-based organizations.

According to the American Heart Association, CPR, especially if performed in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest, can double or triple a person’s chance of survival.

“Oftentimes there is no warning, so preparation is key,” Gossip said. “In February, the VCU Health Pauley Heart Center sponsored its annual Go Red Health Fair, at which we offered blood pressure screenings, BMI calculations, heart health education, and hands-only CPR training to more than 800 of our community members and employees.”

VCU Health is one of the first health systems in the country to use the Advanced Resuscitation Cooling Therapeutics and Intensive Care post-cardiac arrest program. ARCTIC treatment induces hypothermia in cardiac arrest patients and involves lowering a patient’s body temperature to 33 degrees Celsius, then rewarming them. The low temperature helps preserve the brain, and increase survival rates and neurological outcomes.

Mary Ann Peberdy, M.D., is director of the ARCTIC program and Gossip — who oversees a support group for cardiac arrest survivors who have gone through ARCTIC treatment — is the program’s coordinator. Cummings was evaluated but did not qualify for ARCTIC treatment as he was responsive and following commands after his cardiac arrest.  

“Using the ARCTIC method of treatment coupled with our hands-on CPR presence in the community, I’d say VCU Health has a place at the forefront of treating cardiac arrest,” Gossip said.


Social media magic

In an attempt to locate the stranger who performed CPR on her father, Alice Cummings posted a Facebook message June 18.

It read, in part:

“… Ok FB friends, I need some reposts and social media magic. This past mother's day my healthy and wonderful father spent the morning cycling with me on a 20 mile bike ride and then suffered a very sudden and unexpected heart attack. Luckily there were some medical professionals sitting close by and on the patio that rushed over to help and were able to perform CPR. The immediate attention is what saved his life. There was a blood clot trapped in a narrowed artery which caused his heart to stop repeatedly. Minutes mattered. If you have any connection to a Summer Hughey, Catherine Schlupp, Alan Dow or William Rowe that would have been at Grandstaff on 5/14 around 1:30 pm, please help. Any and all share posts welcome  . We would very much like to say thank you.”

On Father’s Day, John Cummings and his family returned to Grandstaff & Stein, sat in the same booth and, this time, enjoyed their meal to the end. And, thanks to Alice Cummings’ post and help from her friend, VCU Health staff nurse Amanda Jones, Dow recently reconnected with Cummings and his family at the restaurant for the first time since his cardiac arrest in May.

“To go from having a stopped heart on Mother’s Day to eating brunch at the same restaurant on Father’s Day is truly a heartwarming story. I am so overjoyed for him and his family and gratified to have been a part of such a happy ending,” said Dow, also the assistant vice president of interprofessional education and collaborative care at VCU. “Mr. Cummings might have done well even without our efforts, but I know that the nurse practitioner and I increased his chances for survival by starting chest compressions quickly.”

Today, John Cummings’ voice is still a bit raspy because of intubation during his cardiac arrest. Otherwise, his recovery is steadfast.    

Alice Cummings and her father the morning of his cardiac arrest at Grandstaff & Stein Book Sellers RVA.
Alice Cummings and her father the morning of his cardiac arrest at Grandstaff & Stein Book Sellers RVA.

“I was able to complete the bathroom remodel project I had been working on. I walk three to six miles, four to five times a week, and am able to do many normal things around the house, and I can drive,” he said. “Best of all, I still have all of my mental faculties — or at least no worse than before — and for that I am very grateful for the quick and timely CPR.”

He’s also grateful for his care and caretakers while at VCU Health, particularly the multidisciplinary team that treated him after his cardiac arrest experience.

“My stay in the hospital was wonderful, considering the circumstances,” he said. “The staff were marvelous, the doctors were highly competent, friendly, attentive and helpful. I also received consultation from cardio recovery, physical and occupational therapy. I'm a very lucky man, and very fortunate that so many things aligned to help me survive. I'm very grateful to everyone who helped me on this journey, especially my family.”


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