Red Cross-trained Bluffton resident recognized for saving life

tbarton@islandpacket.comFebruary 20, 2012 

Bluffton resident Richard Frankoski was warming up for his tennis match last March at Berkeley Hall when he started to feel dizzy.

"I had felt that way for a couple of hours and didn't think anything of it," Frankoski, 68, said. "I was thinking (my opponent) has the same game as me."

That's the last thing he remembers before waking up in an ambulance on the way to Hilton Head Hospital.

What Frankoski doesn't remember -- but owes his life to -- was the quick reaction of 36-year-old Derek Lemire, the Berkeley Hall fitness director who rushed to his aid and delivered a shock with an automated external defibrillator, or AED.

For his heroism, Lemire was recognized Monday at Bluffton Town Council's meeting and awarded a certificate of merit signed by President Barack Obama, honorary chairman of the Red Cross.

The certificate is the highest award given by the Red Cross for sustaining or saving a life -- only 90 are presented each year from among several hundred submissions nationwide.

"I'm pretty humbled by it," Lemire said. "There are a lot of people who do this every day who don't get credit, such as paramedics, nurses, doctors and surgeons. I just hope (Frankoski) and his family are able to enjoy a long life. The good Lord wasn't ready for him that day."

"I'm very lucky that he was there," Frankoski said before Monday's council meeting. "(It's) a special gift for me that he was there."

Frankoski collapsed on the court. His heart had stopped beating. Four of his arteries were either completely or almost completely blocked.

Time was ticking.

Cardiac-arrest patients begin to suffer irreversible brain damage if oxygen doesn't get to the brain within four to six minutes, according to studies by the American Heart Association.

Lemire, a Red Cross-certified cardio pulmonary resuscitation instructor, ran to the tennis court with the AED.

Frankoski was not moving and his breathing was shallow. Without hesitation, Lemire hooked the AED to Frankoski's chest and performed CPR before administering two electric shocks.

By the time EMS arrived, Frankoski was breathing on his own, Lemire said.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think he would wake up," he said. "My goal was to keep him alive in time for the ambulance crew to get there to take him to the hospital, where they can do the real work. The surreal part was seeing him open his eyes."

Thanks to Lemire, Frankoski was able to receive quadruple bypass surgery within hours and has since made a full recovery -- and is back playing tennis, with a keener eye on his health.

Frankoski, who has no family history of heart problems and is not overweight, said the experience encouraged him and about 100 neighbors and friends to become CPR-certified.

More than 300,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur every year in the U.S., according to the Red Cross. Of those, about 8 percent survive because someone administered CPR or an AED immediately. For those who do receive CPR or an AED immediately, four out of five survive, said Harry Walker, a CPR instructor and American Red Cross volunteer.

"The more people certified to perform CPR and use AEDs, the safer the general public will be," Walker said. "(Cardiac arrest) can happen to anyone. No one is immune."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHitonHead

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