The last thing Home Depot employee Bryant Bearfield remembers before his 5’10” frame came lumbering down and the back of his head smacked the concrete floor was selling a customer a lawn mower.
“People told me later it sounded like a watermelon splitting open,” the 63-year-old Juneau resident said, pointing to the gash which required eight stitches.
As he lay unconscious near the checkout lines at the front of the store, the head gash was the least of his problems. He had just collapsed from a heart attack.
Luckily for him, people were nearby and helped save his life. The good Samaritans who rushed to his aid gave him Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until Capital City Fire/Rescue arrived on scene with a defibrillator and a waiting ambulance.
The team of do-gooders — a cowboy hat-wearing pastor trained in CPR, a Home Depot employee who happened to be a volunteer firefighter/EMT and her boyfriend, also a volunteer firefighter/EMT who was shopping in the store at the time — were recently awarded for their rescue efforts. CCFR presented them certificates of appreciation, and the store’s corporate division presented employee Mara Cisney an Angel award for her part.
The episode began on March 11 as Senior Pastor at Glacier Valley Church Gordon Mills was questioning Bearfield about a lawn mower.
“He was standing there talking to me. The next second he was down. It was so quick you wouldn’t believe it,” Mills said in an interview.
Mills yelled at a nearby employee to call 911, and he began CPR. Mills has about 20 years of training as an EMT since he is a member of the National Ski Patrol. He took a refresher CPR class about a year and a half ago.
As Mills continued to give compressions to Bearfield’s chest, Home Depot employee Mara Cisney appeared beside him and began giving Bearfield mouth to mouth. Cisney, 32, a volunteer firefighter/EMT for the past four years, had been on her way to the back of the store when she happened to see them on the ground.
Almost immediately after Cisney appeared, her partner Paul Jennings saw them as he was shopping for materials for a house remodeling project.
“I honestly thought they were practicing CPR, then I said no, wait, something’s going on, I gotta step in,” said Jennings, a 31-year-old volunteer firefighter/EMT since 2004.
Mills and Cisney kept Bearfield’s heart beating while Jennings monitored the man’s pulse and coached them through it. Either no one could find the automatic external defibrillator (AED), or it wasn’t working. Either way, time was passing, and quickly.
Mills said he kept thinking, “We need CCFR.”
“All we had was our bare hands,” he explained.
Cisney said in an interview that Bearfield had agonal breathing, which means not steady and slow.
“It seemed like a long time,” Jennings said.
Officers with the Juneau Police Department arrived on scene first, then came CCFR with an AED. The fire department’s EMT team gave Bearfield three sets of three shocks. Altogether, almost 20 minutes had passed since Bearfield hit the floor. CCFR rushed him to the hospital, and he was flown to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.
Bearfield’s wife, Jan-Marie Bearfield, says doctors initially told her he had a total blockage in one of his arteries, which prevented oxygen from getting to his brain. They said the survival rate was less than five percent, she said.
“They weren’t planning on him surviving,” Jan-Marie recalled.
The doctors put him into a coma for two and a half days, then pulled him out of it. He was in the adult Critical Care Unit for seven days, then began to recover and was placed into progressive care.
Jan-Marie says the doctors partially attributed his survival to the immediate care he received after collapsing. In those critical moments before CCFR on scene, the trio at Home Depot had kept oxygen flowing to his brain.
“The one brain cell I have still works perfectly,” Bearfield joked in an interview at Home Depot where the husband and wife thanked Mills, Cisney and Jennings as the three received certificates from CCFR.
Jennings, who moved from Petersburg to Juneau in January, says it goes to show that CPR saves lives. He urged bystanders who may find themselves in a similar position in the future to do something to help.
“Something is better than nothing, and that’s what we did,” he said.
Pastor Mills says it was by the grace of God that three trained EMTs happened to be around Bearfield when he went into cardiac arrest.
“I think that was divine intervention,” he said.
Bearfield, in a somber tone, said he wanted to thank the three for their quick action.
“I want to thank them,” he said. “If they hadn’t done what they did, I would have died for sure on the concrete.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.