GR Children’s Museum Underscores Importance of CPR Training, AEDs

It was an ordinary day.

On Saturday, April 15, Huy Phan took his daughter and nephew to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum for a morning of fun. As a museum member, it was a trip he made frequently, at least once a week.

He remembers playing by the bubbles. Then, he woke up in the hospital.

A Fast Response

Phan is 35. Although he has a family history of heart disease, he certainly wasn’t expecting to have a heart attack that morning.

Witnesses said Phan fell to the ground, shaking. They thought he was having a stroke or seizure.

Clover Brown was the floor manager on duty that day. She was alerted to the situation and ran to call 911, first asking staff member Onalee Sneller to attend to Phan.

Sneller remembers she was drawing a “Happy Birthday” message on a whiteboard before she rushed to Phan’s aid. She said she instinctively went into action, performing CPR, her mind racing.

“In my head I was thinking ‘that does not look normal or good’,” she said.

The Grand Rapids Fire Department responded in a matter of minutes, ultimately using a defibrillator to resuscitate Phan before Brown even had a chance to rush the museum’s automated external defibrillator (AED) upstairs. Had it not been for the fast response by Brown, Sneller, and the fire department, museum executive director Maggie Lancaster isn’t sure the end of this story would be a happy one.

“I don’t want to think about that, but I have a strong feeling that I would be talking to you or somebody else about a different topic,” she said.

Prepared to Help

Lancaster took the reins of the museum about a year ago. Before that she’d served on the museum’s board. As she was taking the helm, a community supporter, Mark Meijer, president of Life EMS Ambulance, offered a gift of an AED for the museum, along with CPR training for staff provided by Life EMS Ambulance.

The museum’s AED was a gift from Life EMS Ambulance and is located near the entrance.

The first training took place in November 2016, a mere five months before Phan’s heart attack took place. Life EMS Ambulance has committed to training museum staff every six months, so a refresher was just offered in May. Lancaster said everyone on staff participated with a new sense of urgency to be prepared in the event that another guest might need their help.

Left to right: Clover Brown, Huy Phan, and Onalee Sneller.

Brown and Sneller say they urge their co-workers and really, everyone, to learn CPR and be prepared to use it. Phan said he would like to see AEDs and CPR training in more businesses.

Sneller is glad the CPR training sunk in, although she admits it wasn’t top of mind in the moment.

“I really do believe it was more than my hand that was in it,” she said.

Still, Phan jokes that she must have done it right because his ribs were definitely feeling it.

“I felt it for like a whole month,” he said.

He’s effusive in his praise for the two young women who came to his aid. He was back at the children’s museum about a week after he was let out of the hospital, bearing Pandora bracelets and flowers for Brown and Sneller, as well as treats for the entire museum staff.

“If it wasn’t for them I don’t think I would be here,” he said.

A New Beginning

Phan has a new lease on life. He’s grateful he was at the museum when he had the heart attack. It’s hard for him to think about what might have happened if he’d been at home with no other adults present or while he was driving with kids in his vehicle.

He now exercises at his local YMCA six to seven times per week and has cut out fast food from his diet. He’s lost about 15 pounds and said being the youngest person in the intensive care unit was a wake-up call. He looks forward to showing his daughter Isabella, who turns two this month, a healthy, active lifestyle.

“I’ve got to show her exercise is part of life,” he said. “I’m thankful I’m here to see her grow up still.”

Phan continues to be a frequent visitor to the children’s museum. Most everybody there knows him and are genuinely grateful to welcome him. Brown remembers getting the text from Lancaster on Easter Sunday that Phan would be okay. She and Sneller were both immensely relieved.

“I just couldn’t stop thinking about it all night and day until I got that text from Maggie,” Brown said.

Lancaster said the museum partners with a lot of community organizations, but ones that focus on heart health, such as the American Heart Association and Life EMS Ambulance, will hold a special significance moving forward.

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Photo credit: Julie Bitely

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