YORK COUNTY, Va. — Nearly nine months after he suffered a massive heart attack while presiding over a case, York-Poquoson Circuit Court Judge Prentis Smiley can speak frankly about the event that nearly claimed his life.
The 68-year-old judge said the situation could have been catastrophic had there not been ready access to a portable heart defibrillator that was kept in a hallway outside the courtroom.
Because of that, Smiley received critical treatment within a minute of suffering cardiac arrest.
He is now back on the bench and expected to recover fully, he said.
York County officials are also convinced Smiley was saved by the Automated External Defibrillator that administers an electrical pulse to jump start and rhythmically align flagging heart beats in the critical minutes before paramedics arrive.
Since the high-profile event and other instances where York sheriff’s deputies successfully used the devices during medical emergencies county officials have pushed for, and received, a $32,000 grant from the Williamsburg Community Health Foundation’s “Heart-Start, Save A Life” program to help move forward an effort to place AEDs in every one of the county’s public buildings.
Smiley credits the swift actions of an emergency medical technician and CPR instructor who happened to be in the courtroom as a witness and bailiff, respectively for not only saving his life but preventing brain damage that could have resulted from oxygen deprivation had his heart gone much longer without pumping.
“No pulse. No heart beat. No breath. I was dead,” Smiley recalled. “Because of the quick response, they revived me and the defibrillator provided the shock to get my heart started.”
Since returning to the bench in July, Smiley said he has been contacted by judicial counterparts in Hampton, Newport News and across the state who were interested in obtaining AEDs for their courthouses.
“They said my event brought to their attention the need to install AEDs,” he said. “Good things can happen when bad things occur.”
The grant money will fund the purchase of 27 AEDs 19 short of the 46 units that were recommended by a countywide assessment and a $10,000 York County matching donation will cover training and supplies not paid by the foundation, a York County statement said.
A number of the devices are already employed at the York-Poquoson courthouse, in every public school, at Riverwalk Landing, most public parks, the county’s finance building and in law enforcement and fire/rescue vehicles, said Thom Schwalenberg, a York County Fire and Lifesaving battalion chief who helped spearhead the project.
More defibrillators are needed in county administration buildings and in vehicles driven by building officials and general services employees who conduct site inspections frequently at out-of-the way construction sites, Schwalenberg said.
“You wouldn’t have a building without a fire extinguisher,” Schwalenberg said. “We’d like to make these just as common.”