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Wis. safety class gets real-life lesson; Defibrillator trainer halts course to save welder who went into cardiac arrest

MILWAUKEE, Wis. There's really never a good time for someone's heart to stop, but a welder at Super Steel Products Corp. went into cardiac arrest this week at the same time a first aid trainer was teaching the welder's co-workers how to perform CPR and use a defibrillator.

Sabrina Kurban had trained employees at the northwest side steel fabrication plant to use an automated external defibrillator a few months ago and was back Tuesday morning for a CPR refresher class when a worker ran in and said there was a medical emergency.

Kurban, owner of Central States Safety, grabbed her defibrillator and ran out to the factory floor, where she saw a man lying on the ground with blood seeping out a gash on his head, from hitting the floor or machinery. Donald Gerard had no pulse. He wasn't breathing.

A first shift co-worker had noticed the welder turn blue and pass out and had alerted the first responders, who are employees trained to respond to medical emergencies before paramedics arrive.

"His neck and face were beyond blue; they were a different color," Kurban said. "But I guess blue would be the best choice of colors to describe him."

A Super Steel worker whom Kurban had previously trained was performing CPR. Gerard's shirt was opened so the defibrillator patches could be applied to his chest. Sensors monitored the 49-year-old worker's vital signs and advised a shock, so Kurban pushed the button and sent an electric pulse to Gerard's heart. It began to beat again.

He still wasn't breathing, so the first responders breathed a few times into his mouth. Gerard's eyes fluttered open, and he began to breathe.

Kurban's first thought? "Oh, thank God."

Super Steel recently purchased three automated external defibrillators and paid to train workers to use them.

"It was one of those classic cases of if this had happened three months ago, before they had gotten an AED, the outcome may have been different," Kurban said.

Gerard, who has worked at the company since 1979, is doing well at a hospital in Menomonee Falls and could be released today, said his wife, Leigh Gerard. The Brown Deer couple, who have three children, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in April.

"He had no symptoms whatsoever until he dropped," his wife said. "He said he started feeling a little ill (at work), so he was leaning on a table next to a fan, and the next thing he knew he was on the stretcher."

Leigh Gerard said one of her husband's aortic arteries was 100% blocked, so doctors put in a stent. Gerard also had four staples put in his scalp from the head wound.

"He pulled through this remarkably well," Leigh Gerard said Wednesday night. "It's all the advances now - having that defibrillator at Super Steel. Without that there, they said he would be gone."

The decision to buy defibrillators and train employees to use the devices was easy, said company President and CEO Keith Trafton.

"It's the right thing to do," he said. "We have a diverse age group in our work force, and we want to make sure in the unlikely event that we ever have to use them that they're there. Our hope is they never get used again."

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