ANDOVER — Dan Grecoe celebrated his 43rd birthday last week, and he credits three alert bystanders and a defibrillator with helping him reach the date.
Grecoe, an Andover resident who lives with his wife Lisa and three daughters, went into sudden cardiac arrest on the morning of Sept. 19 while exercising at the Andover/North Andover YMCA.
For about 10 minutes, retired Andover firefighter Richard Hartman and school nurse Rita Casper worked together to perform CPR on Grecoe while YMCA employee Maura Eisenhood used an automatic external defibrillator to help him survive while the paramedics were en route.
"Without Maura and Rita and Richard and this device, I wouldn't be here with my daughters to celebrate," Grecoe said, referring to the automatic external defibrillator.
Grecoe was working out at the gym with his friend Paul Davies early on the morning of Sept. 19. He had recently recovered from knee surgery — having his anterior cruciate ligament replaced following a skiing injury — and was given the OK to start running.
He started with the treadmill, running for about six or seven minutes, and said he felt totally winded.
"I chalked that up for not being able to run because of the knee," Grecoe said.
Grecoe and Davies then switched to the elliptical machines. After about five minutes on the machine, Grecoe started to feel faint.
"I said to (Davies), 'I'm feeling a little dizzy,' and that was it," Grecoe said. "The lights went out."
Eisenhood, assistant to the sports director at the YMCA and a North Andover resident, said she noticed Grecoe at the gym that morning because he had been using a machine normally taken by another gym regular.
Eisenhood had been wiping down machines when she noticed commotion in his direction. She said when she walked over that she noticed Grecoe was clenching his hands.
"We realized that he was kind of struggling to breathe," Eisenhood said. "As he was on his side, Rita had come over and said, 'I'm a registered nurse, I can help.'"
The two sent some other people in the gym to call 911. Hartman, the former deputy chief for the Andover Fire Department, stepped forward to help as well.
Casper, the director of nurses for Andover Public Schools, gave chest compressions while Hartman applied rescue breaths. Eisenhood opened up the defibrillator.
"It tells you what to do," Eisenhood said. "We followed the directions."
Eisenhood, 43, has worked at the YMCA branch for six years and has been certified in first aid since high school. She had CPR re-certification at the start of the summer.
"I think I was at ease because I had been trained," Eisenhood said. "I literally had my hands on the same device months before."
She applied electric shocks to Grecoe three times while the group worked to keep him alive. Rescue crews arrived and took Grecoe to Lawrence General Hospital, where he has his first memories waking up.
"There's really no words that can express the gratitude that I have to everyone who came to my aid, from the people at my gym to everybody in Ambulance 1 who responded," Grecoe said.
Now recovering, Grecoe, a software engineer, has been cleared by his doctors to start walking. He said he hopes to run a 5K race in the future.
Eisenhood said she felt like circumstances aligned for the three to come to Grecoe's rescue — saving him from a life-threatening situation.
"It just seemed like everything was lined up," Eisenhood said. "You were at the gym at the right time, Rita was right there, Richard was right there."
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