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Survivor Spotlight - Larry Gill

Sudden Cardiac Arrest is an electrical problem in the heart that can happen to anyone, at any time. There are generally no signs or symptoms, just a sudden collapse. Bystanders have 2 minutes to respond with chest compressions and/or the use of an AED to give the patient the best chance of survival (upwards of 90%). Every minute that chest compressions are delayed, the patient’s chance of survival decreases 10 percent.

On April 16, 2018, Larry and Audrey Gill were winding up their vacation, and heading to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport when he started complaining of indigestion. He collapsed on his way to security. Bystanders started chest compressions and an AED was applied. After minutes of chest compressions, and a few shocks from an AED, Larry’s heart started to beat normally. Next thing he remembers is waking up in the hospital, with little to no recollection of how or why he got there. Larry suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. Larry takes us on his beautiful journey of recovery post cardiac arrest. His responses are in blue.

April 20, 2018-Larry and Audrey Gill (center) with representatives from AED Institute, Hawaiian Airlines, Honolulu Fire Department, and Honolulu Airport Rescue Firefighters.

April 20, 2018-Larry and Audrey Gill looking at an AED prior to boarding their flight back to Portland.

Briefly tell us what happened.

My incident happened on April 16, 2018, around 1:00 PM, at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport check-in area. I was 71 years old. Audrey and I had driven to the airport rental area to return our rental car. We finished the paperwork at the rental agency and boarded a shuttle to the main airport check-in; when on the shuttle, I told Audrey I didn’t feel good, thought I was having a bad case of acid reflux, and was going to need something to settle my stomach down when we got to the waiting area. She asked me if my acid reflux felt like the other past times I’d had it; I told her, “No, it felt a little different.” We just managed to get our bags off the shuttle, went in through the terminal door, turned right toward the automatic check-in area, when suddenly a large black hexagon floated in front of me. The next thing I remember was waking up, my chest was hurting; I opened my eyes and thought, “I’m not in the airport anymore and it looks like I’m in the hospital”. Of course, the first question was, “What happened?” From here on, I’ll let Audrey tell what happened since it is all a blank to me.

How has this event changed your life?

My life has changed in so many ways. Of course, I was trying to understand what had happened. I had many questions, “Why was I still here? What was happening with me in that space of time that I don’t remember anything?” I was told I was answering questions, in the hospital emergency room, and even signed a release for the hospital to do whatever they had to do. Audrey said that she even saw me putting a pill under my tongue as I was wheeled out of the exam room for surgery.

Since all that’s happened, I’ve struggled with a couple of big questions, “Why am I still here? Why have so many good, younger people died instead of me?” I’ve had a good life; if it was my time to go, why am I back? but here I am. I had my perfect death, very little pain and fast. I know I was happy where I went. I talked to quite a few people about this and been given many reasons why I’m still here. My family told me that they all loved me and wanted me to be here with them; I agree but also found that there must be other reasons too. One is to spread the word about the AED machine and learning to use it; to tell people not to be afraid to use it. The AED machine can truly save a life but it can’t save a person’s life unless someone knows how to use it and is willing to use it.

I’ve also told many people what I felt and what I experienced in that time when my heart had stopped beating. I had a wonderful feeling of wholeness and of peacefulness; death is not to be feared. Many people talked to me about a loved one that passed or about they, themselves, suffering, moving toward a life ending event. I tell people there are miracles; I am the living example of one. I should be dead but here I am, so never give up hope or faith.

I’ve gone back to some of the activities I loved doing but stopped many years ago. I started to oil paint again, but something is different now. I seem to be painting better, using more vivid colors, and the compositions are much better. It’s like I’m seeing a new life with new eyes and am able to express them by painting these differences into a picture. I’ve also taken up learning to play guitar and to read music. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a teenager; now I’m doing it. I’m finding life to be much more meaningful and bringing so much more joy. I’ve taken up cooking, enjoy finding new recipes, trying new foods, and the challenge of using no or very little salt. I find my faith becoming stronger, helped by so many people I’ve met on this journey who were so interesting and caring.

Larry posing with one of his paintings

Do you have any advice for any future Good Samaritans?

A friend of mine, in Sacramento, was a Safety Consultant for many years. He called me after he heard what happened; told me he taught CPR, including the AED machine, for many years but had never talked to anyone who was actually saved by its use. He wanted to know what the experience was like. I told him that the whole process hurt like hell but was worth the pain; he can tell his clients that the use of the AED machine was worth having one available for the saving of lives; CPR by itself may not have been enough to save me.

Larry had the chance of meeting another cardiac arrest survivor, Larry Ledwidth. Both named Larry, both suffered a cardiac arrest while visiting Hawaii, both are from Oregon, and both were saved with one of the State Airport’s AEDs. The story of their meeting is below.

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