Watching as medical experts administered CPR to Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin after his recent collapse was heart wrenching for Orland Park resident David Nenn, who required the same medical attention over the summer.
Nenn, 49, said he and his wife, Bridget O’Brien, watched in shock during the Bills vs. Bengals game Jan. 2 as Hamlin stood up after a tackle and then immediately fell backward as he went into cardiac arrest.
“It was a little emotional to see it when it happened. It kind of floods back some the things that I went through and Bridget went through,” Nenn said.
Hamlin’s recovery is credited largely to the immediate response of the medical staff. When Nenn went into cardiac arrest, the doctors gave credit to the bystander who began administering CPR, O’Brien said.
“What saved Dave’s life and what saved Damar’s life was that the sooner that people can get CPR the better likelihood that they’re going to not only live but also not have long term organ damage,” O’Brien said.
June 9, two weeks before the couple’s wedding, Nenn was rushed to the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest. Since surviving the medical emergency, Nenn and O’Brien have spoken out on the importance of monitoring heart health and learning CPR.
That morning, Nenn, who teaches at Old Quarry Middle School in Lemont, said he went to the Home Depot in Frankfort to buy supplies needed to help a friend with a home improvement project.
The last memory he has of that morning is parking in the store parking lot.
O’Brien said she got a call from Nenn’s phone about 45 minutes after he left the house and thought he was calling to say he forgot something. Instead it was the cashier at Home Depot letting her know Nenn collapsed, someone was administering CPR and an ambulance was on the way.
Initially, O’Brien, who teaches at Liberty Junior High School in New Lenox, said she couldn’t believe what she was being told because Nenn didn’t appear sick or act unusual that morning.
“He had breakfast and I made his tea like I always do,” O’Brien said.
When the paramedics arrived, they used a defibrillator on Nenn in the parking lot and then again as they arrived at Silver Cross Hospital, he said.
The hospital’s interventional cardiologist, Dr. Hazem Alhawasli, said in a news release Nenn’s labs revealed the front artery of his heart was completely blocked.
At one point, Nenn’s heart function was down to 20%, Alhawasli said, which raised concern for loss of brain and lung function.
“In cardiology, every second without heart function is critical to the other organs,” Alhawasli said.
Nenn had heart surgery to put in three stents to help blood flow to the heart and other organs, Alhawasli said. Two days after the surgery, Nenn was taken off the ventilator, he said.
“He was starting to talk a little bit, but later that day we had him up and walking a bit,” Alhawasli said. “Thankfully, he was showing no signs of damage to the brain or to the lungs.”
What helped ensure Nenn’s survival, Alhawasli said, was the quick response of the bystander who administered CPR.
Nenn said he finished his cardiac rehabilitation in half the time required because he does not fit the typical profile of somebody with heart problems: he doesn’t smoke, he’s not overweight and he’s not elderly. Nenn said he’s active and plays ice hockey, recalling he played a game just a few days earlier.
The couple married as planned June 25, and the only detail they had to adjust for was hiding Nenn’s heart monitor, which he had to wear for a few months, under his suit jacket.
They approached the day with a renewed notion that their love and health were the most important part of the day.
“When you’re working on a wedding, you get consumed with all these little details that you think are so important. Then, something like this happens and you realize, like, who sits with who at what table doesn’t matter,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said what really stuck with her is Alhawasli telling her how important CPR is when someone goes into cardiac arrest. Her mission is to get as many people certified in CPR as possible, she said.
Through her school district and the New Lenox Fire Department, she said she organized four classes where 40 people total learned CPR. The classes are held monthly during the school year, she said, and she hopes to grow the program.
“The more people that can be trained in CPR to be able to help if there’s ever a situation is critical,” O’Brien said.
Nenn said he encourages everyone he meets to be proactive with their heart health. Silver Cross offers heart scans for $49, according to the news release.
The experience has also solidified his mindset of living life to the fullest, Nenn said.
“You’re not promised tomorrow, so enjoy your life. Enjoy your life today because you just don’t know,” Nenn said.
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