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Saved by an AED and a quick-thinking coach

Mike Fowler is thrilled to have a new lease on life after surviving a heart attack in the Sharp Edge CrossFit gym on Dodge Avenue. His life was saved, at least initially, thanks to the quick thinking reactions of gym owner Tani Mintz.

Mike Fowler is also an avid gardener and apiarist. Credit: Wendy Kromash

Illinois law requires all gyms to have an AED (automated external defibrillator) in the facility, but Mintz had the focus and calmness to use it correctly in an emergency. She shocked Fowler back into consciousness.

On a slow Tuesday, Aug 30, Fowler was at his afternoon workout at the gym. The class was starting to work on proper weight lifting form, practicing with PVC pipes, when Fowler bent down to catch his breath.

Fowler had only been coming to the gym for the past month and this was only his second time with Mintz as his coach. She asked him if he was OK.

Fowler’s breathing did not look or sound good. Mintz got her phone and called 911. When she looked back at Fowler, he was lying on his side and unresponsive. She ran a short distance away and grabbed the AED on the office wall.

Mintz said, “The machine is basically dummy-proof. You do what it tells you to do.” The machine called for Fowler to be shocked. The pads were applied, everyone stood back and the shock jolted Fowler’s body.

The machine then directed her to begin compressions. CorDell Larkin, another gymgoer, was ready and stepped up to apply compressions. Mintz pressed the button on the AED that provided metronome beats for Larkin to follow according to the optimal standard. Fowler was still not conscious.

The hospital and after

Fowler describes Larkin as a “big guy, muscular. He cracked two of my ribs, which the doctors told me is a sign that he was doing the CPR correctly.” Larkin continued the compressions for 30 seconds and then, miraculously, Fowler regained consciousness.

He opened his eyes and looked around. “I’m sorry guys. I ruined your class,” he said.

An ambulance and fire truck arrived 7 minutes after Mintz called. Mintz texted Fowler’s wife, Lisa, to let him know that Fowler was OK but to call Mintz at the gym. The paramedics accessed the scene and transported Fowler to Evanston Hospital.

Fowler had a second heart attack in the ambulance.

Mike Fowler and Tani Mintz at Sharp Edge CrossFit. To the left on the wall behind Fowler is the lifesaving AED. Credit: Wendy Kromash

When he arrived at Evanston Hospital, he was taken immediately into a special treatment room where (with his permission), they guided a catheter up to his heart, cleared the blockage and inserted two stents. He was hospitalized for two nights.

It was a harrowing experience, but the doctors said Fowler was incredibly lucky. Mintz saved his life. Tests showed his heart had 5% damage and may heal on its own.

Even though the heart attack was considered “exercise-induced” by the cardiologists who treated him, Fowler was advised to resume and continue exercising as long as he stays within an acceptable range. He and Lisa take daily neighborhood walks to ease Fowler back into exercise.

As soon as he is cleared, he said, he plans to beeline back to Sharp Edge CrossFit.

He said he has nothing but gratitude for Tani, Larkin, the EMTs and everyone at Evanston Hospital.

Mintz said she finds it difficult to share the details around this intense and intensely emotional experience. She deflected any references to saving Fowler’s life. She is quick to point out the others who helped Fowler.

She has offered to pay 50% of the cost of CPR certification for any gym member who wants to learn – 24 people have signed up. The classes will take place in October at the gym and will be taught by Evanston Fire Department paramedics.

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