Jack Sutherland couldn’t breath.
He woke up in a panic.
And when he tried to raise his hands to his face, he discovered they were strapped down.
Sutherland then opened his eyes and saw his wife Carole, and son, Chris. It was just after 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 9, 2015. He was in a hospital bed at Harborview Medical Center, and had just come out of the emergency room after being treated for a cardiac arrest.
The last thing Sutherland remembered was walking to his chair, microphone in hand, at the lunchtime meeting for the Rotary Club of Bainbridge Island Rotary at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.
Sutherland had been walking around the room minutes before, sharing the microphone with people who had good-news announcements for the “Happy Bucks” part of the program.
Bainbridge Island Fire Chief Hank Teran, a Rotary member, was sitting on the other side of the room.
“All of a sudden, I hear this ‘Bang!’ And somebody yells, ‘Where’s Hank? Where’s the chief?” Teran recalled.
Sutherland was on the floor next to his chair. Teran checked his vitals, and determined Sutherland was in full cardiac arrest.
“He’s not breathing and there’s no pulse. I grab one of the Rotarians, ‘We need you to call 911 immediately,’” Teran remembered.
While Teran and another person begin CPR, others look around for an AED (automated external defibrillator), a portable device that can send an electrical shock to a person’s heart to get it beating in rhythm again. The church didn’t have one.
Thankfully, paramedics arrived quickly and Sutherland was soon on a gurney, in an aid car, and then on a medical airlift flight to Seattle.
More than six hours later, just out of the emergency room, Sutherland came to. He couldn’t breath because of the tubes in his mouth.
“First instinct was, I couldn’t believe I was suffocating,” he recalled. Then Sutherland found he was lashed down to the bed.
“Well, this is panic time. I was thinking, what in the world has happened to me?”
Sutherland soon discovered what had happened when everything went black at the Rotary meeting.
“They call it sudden cardiac arrest for a reason. It’s just bang! Your heart stops,” he said.
The incident turned Sutherland into an expert of sorts; he can quickly cite the number of cardiac arrests every year in the U.S. (350,000) and the number of victims who require both CPR and a defibrillator to survive (70 percent).
He is now an enthusiastic advocate for AEDs, and getting them placed all across the island where they can do some good.
There wasn’t a device at Saint Barnabas.
“There is now,” the chief said.
That was just a start. Sutherland and Teran have teamed up to lead Rotary’s program to expand the number of defibrillators, or AEDs, across Bainbridge. A Rotary grant has helped put 26 in place; some with the financial assistance of local businesses such as ACE Hardware.
As of January, Bainbridge has 39 of the devices scattered across the island in places where large numbers of people gather.
Now, the pair are fundraising to expand the Rotary’s AED program to install even more of the devices.
Teran credits Sutherland for being the real power behind the program.
“This is his passion; this program. He has done the heavy lifting,” Teran said.
The devices cost approximately $1,600 retail, but Sutherland has negotiated a volume discount with the manufacturer to drop the cost to $930 for AEDs for the Bainbridge program.
“He’s quite the negotiator,” Teran said.
Some of the 39 units obtained so far were placed at no-cost at some locations, such as the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, while other recipients have split the costs with Rotary or covered the full cost.
The pair hope to eventually double the number of AEDs on the Bainbridge, with donations from islanders in the months ahead.
“The goal is to have Bainbridge Island one of the most prepared communities regarding AEDs,” Teran said.
“I’m confident were going to get close to 40 additional AEDs,” Sutherland added.
For more information on the program, or to donate, visit www.bainbridgeislandrotary.org.