Bill Hughes and his daughter, Bethany Gordon, had just made the turn for the halfway point in last April’s Monument 10K in Virginia when Hughes grabbed his daughter’s arm.
“Oh my gosh!” he cried before collapsing.
Gordon flipped her father over with the help of other racers. His face was bloodied from the fall and he wasn’t responsive.
“Someone said, ‘His chest isn’t moving,’ so I started chest compressions immediately because I knew it was important to do it right away,” Gordon said.
After getting about a dozen compressions in, another racer took over. Three bystanders – two of whom were race participants and all medical professionals – alternated giving CPR.
A police officer quickly arrived with an automated external defibrillator, or AED, a portable device that can shock the heart back to a normal rhythm.
Hughes was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital within about 10 minutes.
Testing at the hospital revealed Hughes needed a triple bypass, which he had a few days later. After the surgery, he began cardiac rehabilitation.
Fifty days after his cardiac arrest, he was strong enough to return to the race course and complete the second half.
He crossed the finish line with his family and some of his rescuers. He called the experience “humbling.”
“It’s overwhelming to think about how many people helped save me and all the support I’ve gotten,” said Hughes, a retired Army officer who works at the Pentagon.
Warning signs ignored
Even before his cardiac arrest, Hughes was working with a cardiologist to manage his risks for heart disease.
Hughes, 61, had high blood pressure and managed it for more than a decade with medication.
He also had a family history of cardiovascular diseases.
His grandfather had a stroke in his 60s and died two years later. His father had two heart attacks, one of which occurred in his 30s. Then his brother suffered a fatal heart at age 54.
Bill Hughes with his two daughter after completing his 10-kilometer race Image source: Courtesy of Bill Hughes
“This really opened my eyes to the importance of your family history,” Hughes said. “I had all those warning signs from my family, but I didn’t really take them seriously.”
Hughes has overhauled his diet to add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. He has also sharply reduced fatty foods and salt.
Hughes has urged his two daughters and two sons to talk with their doctors about their risks.
He also shared his experience with 300 co-workers at a health-focused “town hall” at the Pentagon. He encouraged them to check with their doctors about their risks and learn what they can about their family health history.
Importance of CPR training
The experience also gave Hughes a greater appreciation for CPR training.
He underwent training last July.
Each year in the United States, more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside a hospital. Only about 11 percent of those treated by emergency medical services survive, according to statistics from the American Heart Association.
CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival, especially if performed within the first few minutes of cardiac arrest.
Gordon, 32, is a teacher and underwent CPR training a few years ago as a workplace requirement.
“I always figured someone else would be around that was better prepared,” she said. “The fact that I was able to use it on my dad really made the importance of knowing CPR more real.”
Gordon has become a strong advocate for CPR training, sharing her story on social media and with her coworkers.
“We’ve heard from so many people that said they got certified after hearing our story,” she said.
Hughes has been exercising regularly, logging at least 11,500 steps every day. He’s careful to listen to his body and take things at a slower pace so he doesn’t get overtired.
On April 1, he returned to the Monument 10K. Although initially apprehensive, he completed the race in 81 minutes, mixing walking and jogging.
He raced alongside Gordon, as well as his other daughter, Emily Clayton, and son-in-law, Brandon Clayton.
“I was tired, but didn’t overdo it,” he said, adding that in the past he would have pushed himself to jog the entire race. “The race could not have been better.”