By Tanya Alexander
He doesn’t speak often of the day he died.
But if you ask him, Dr. Ken MacLeod will quite frankly, and more than a little wondrously, tell you how the events of that February day unfolded.
“My student partner Ma’soom and I had performed admirably in the tennis tournament. It was a beautiful morning with tons of people around enjoying themselves at the campus in the spirit of National Sports Day,” says MacLeod, President of College of the North Atlantic-Qatar (CNA-Q). “I was finishing the second of three laps in the Terry Fox Run and stopped to walk and talk with someone; I felt strange for a couple of seconds then everything went black.”
MacLeod had experienced a cardiac arrest, which is different from and more serious than a heart attack. The employees of CNA-Q learned that fact just two weeks before, when the campus hosted an event showcasing the international research of three medical experts from the UK, who spoke on the nuances of understanding and responding to various types of emergency medical trauma. One of the topics was cardiac arrest, and information included the statistics for Doha’s EMS response time and predicted survival rates. Get this – of 25 cardiac arrests in Doha, only four will make it to the hospital alive. And only one will leave the hospital alive. Jarring statistics.
Andy MacDonald, Instructional Coordinator for the Paramedicine program at CNA-Q, and Raeann Paulson, Paramedicine Instructor, were manning the First Aid booth on National Sports Day.
“My friend John Little asked me to do First Aid coverage for the Terry Fox Run,” says Paulson. “I remember groaning because I really wanted the day off, but it was John and it was the Terry Fox Run so I agreed. But I enlisted Andy MacDonald to help – he never says no,” she says with a laugh.
After the race began, Paulson and MacDonald were called over to the track for a man who “fell down.” When they arrived at the scene, coworkers Gail Waddleton, Lynn Daley and Charlene Mercer – all Respiratory Therapist instructors at CNA-Q – said the patient had had a seizure and collapsed. The man was unconscious and they had placed him in the recovery position.
“When we rolled him on his back I noticed two things,” said Paulson. “He was dead and it was Dr. Ken.”
She says the situation was extremely surreal, as she cut his shirt off and began CPR while MacDonald hooked up the defibrillator (an electronic apparatus that applies a brief electric shock to the heart to restore regular heartbeat).
“He was in VF,” says Paulson. “Andy shocked him and I began CPR again. After about a minute he began showing signs of life and we reassessed. He was in normal sinus rhythm and had a strong radial pulse.”
VF – ventricular fibrillation – is when the heart stops beating properly. It is only quivering in the chest and not effectively pumping blood, Paulson explains. CPR and defibrillation is immediately required; CPR circulates the blood and defibrillation depolarizes the cardiac cells and hopefully resets them to begin working normally again.
“That is what is supposed to happen but so rarely does,” says Paulson. “I remember exchanging incredulous looks with Andy, which only increased when Dr. Ken began trying to stand up. Quite the day.”
A day, says Irene O’Brien, that was one of the most rewarding of her professional life. O’Brien is the Dean of Health Sciences at CNA-Q. It was her team that resuscitated MacLeod.
“It happened the way it’s supposed to happen,” says O’Brien. “There wasn’t a raised voice and everybody moved like a well-oiled machine. Raeann did compressions, the RTs [respiratory therapists] were doing breaths, then Andy would shock. Between the time the heart stopped and started again it was less than four minutes.”
O’Brien says people were gathering around, thinking it was a mock trauma, as the campus often stages them during its annual Skills Competitions. There was a large crowd watching the whole thing and the team was so calm, no one watching knew the difference.
“Talk about doing things under pressure!” laughs O’Brien. “But when it’s real and it’s somebody that you know… it puts things in a slightly different perspective.
“You know, they say those who can’t do, teach… but not with this type of technical training. Those who can do, teach.”
O’Brien is still astonished by the outcome and one thing stands out with amazing clarity, she says.
“When they shocked him, he instantly came back… Instantly! He saw me there and gave me a high five! I have never been so proud!”
MacLeod says he doesn’t remember a thing, as he was “busy being dead.”
“I had ‘passed out’ for what felt like five minutes and then I saw a bright light… and I followed it. It turned out to be the scorching Doha mid-day sun that I was viewing from the key viewpoint on my back on the asphalt of my beloved CNA-Q,” MacLeod shared with his employees in an email message from his hospital bed just days after the incident.
“Silhouetted in that blazing sunshine was our very own Andy MacDonald. I had never seen an angel before! In fact, there was a whole flock of them. And it is because of the expertise of these angels, and those that followed them, that I am able to write this note today.”
It certainly was fortuitous that MacLeod had such highly skilled professionals within immediate reach. It is this message precisely that companies like Prometheus are trying to get across to the public in Doha with training such as SPHERe™ – Specialist Pre-Hospital Emergency Resuscitation, which features seminars in resuscitation and trauma care. Something that everyone can and should learn, because it is those precious moments after someone collapses that make all the difference. They are promoting the learning of CPR and First Aid for the public, so that anyone can provide primary care until Emergency Medical Services arrives.
“As Prometheus points out, the two keys to survival of a cardiac arrest are immediate CPR and defibrillation,” says MacLeod. “I had that from some of the most experienced and professional people in Doha, our very own Health Sciences faculty. If I had collapsed in an ICU department in a hospital, I could not have received better care.”
In fact, due to the immediate medical attention, MacLeod’s heart sustained absolutely no damage. Today, he continues his healthy lifestyle (he has always been fit and nutrition-conscious), but with some minor adjustments. It doesn’t bother him at all. He is back to work full force and plans to continue on indefinitely as President of CNA-Q, the State of Qatar’s only applied learning college. MacLeod is even prouder now to be at the helm of this unique institution and is still moved by the gift given to him by his employees. Though they say they were just doing their jobs.
“How often do any of us get to thank someone for our life? And just how do you do that? As I said to Andy, we use that phrase ‘you’re a lifesaver!’ as a euphemism for something far less significant, but in this case it’s literal,” reflects MacLeod.
“It was my misfortune to have his happen to me but it was my great fortune to have it happen when I was within immediate reach of highly skilled professionals such as those we have at CNA-Q.”
MacLeod has returned to Doha from summer vacation at his home in Sydney, Nova Scotia. He is starting a fresh new year at the campus and is very busy being alive.
Journalist, PR Specialist
College of the North Atlantic