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Sharp Health News

‘We need to start CPR now’

April 21, 2021

Brad Matthews is back at work as a physical therapy assistant at the Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center after experiencing sudden cardiac arrest in the parking lot.

Brad Matthews is back at work as a physical therapy assistant at the Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center after experiencing sudden cardiac arrest in the parking lot.

The call came over the dispatch radio as Sharp HealthCare security guard Joshua Carrasco was patrolling the grounds near Sharp Memorial Hospital.

Car accident reported. Rehab parking lot. Possible heart attack … driver is an employee.

As the closest security guard to the accident site - the parking lot outside the Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center - Joshua jumped into his security vehicle and rushed to the scene. Upon arrival, he saw a group of nurses surrounding an SUV that had crashed into the backside of an empty car. Inside was a man slumped over in the driver's seat, unresponsive.

"They yelled, 'He's not breathing. He's not breathing. We can't get in the car,'" recalls Joshua. "I asked, 'Do I need to get in there? Do I need to break a window?' 'Yes,' they told me. 'We need to start CPR now.'"

Kariann Virissimo, a nurse at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, was one of the nurses trying to help. While leaving the hospital following her own shift, Kariann saw another nurse rushing up to say she had witnessed a car accident in the parking lot and thought the driver may be in trouble. Kariann told her to call 911 and hurried to Brad's car. She noticed he was wearing a Sharp badge.

"The doors were locked, so I tried yelling and shaking the car to rouse him," Kariann says. "He began to have a seizure. I knew we were dealing with something serious and that he needed help fast."

What followed was a terrifying several minutes for Josh, Kariann and a handful of other nurses, who knew they had to act quickly to save the life of Brad Matthews, a physical therapy assistant and Sharp employee for almost 40 years. While driving out of the parking lot following his shift, Brad experienced sudden cardiac arrest - an abrupt loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart.

Sharp HealthCare security guard Joshua Carrasco helped save Sharp physical therapy assistant Brad Matthew's life after Brad experienced cardiac arrest in the parking lot outside of the Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center.

Sharp HealthCare security guard Joshua Carrasco helped save Sharp physical therapy assistant Brad Matthew's life after Brad experienced cardiac arrest in the parking lot outside of the Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center.

'Everyone there was just trying to save his life'
With time running out, Joshua pulled out an emergency car window hammer and smashed through the rear passenger glass, which allowed him to get into the vehicle without further harming Brad. However, when the doors were unlocked, the rescue team faced another challenge: Brad's tall frame made it impossible to get him out of the car.

"He was too tall, we couldn't get him out," says Joshua. "We tried to recline the seat, but there was a car seat in the way. A nurse went through the trunk to see if she could unlatch it, but it was in there good. I crawled in the back seat and just used a knife to cut the straps. Everyone there was just trying to save his life."

Once the car seat was out and the driver's seat was reclined as far back as possible, Kariann jumped on top of Brad's body and started chest compressions.

"I'd never performed CPR in real life," says Kariann, a nurse for 11 years who receives regular CPR training. "He wasn't lying on a flat, hard surface, which is the best way to do chest compressions. But I thought, I have to give this my best shot because if I don't, he might die."

After what felt like a lifetime for Kariann, emergency responders arrived. They pulled Brad from the car and drove him by ambulance to the emergency room at Sharp Memorial.

Kariann Virissimo, RN, is a clinical nurse in the Perinatal Special Care Unit at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.

Kariann Virissimo, RN, is a clinical nurse in the Perinatal Special Care Unit at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.

A long recovery
Seven months after his cardiac arrest, Brad still has no memory from that day - or even the few months before the accident occurred. He knows he was on a ventilator in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Sharp Memorial for 3 weeks, where a defibrillator was placed in his chest to control his heartbeat, but he has no recollection of that time either.

His memory began to return when he was transferred to Sharp Rehab, where he has spent the last 40 years as a physical therapy assistant, helping other patients regain the use of their bodies following an injury or illness. Now, Brad was the patient re-learning how to walk, eat and swallow.

Due to visitor restrictions during the pandemic, Grace, his wife of 20 years, could only visit 3 times during Brad's 6-week hospitalization. She relied on frequent news and updates from his nurses.

"It was terrible, but I knew he was in the right place," Grace says. "Rehab really brought him a long way."

Dr. John Jahan, medical director of the Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center, helped oversee Brad's treatment. "Brad is the best there is," says Dr. Jahan, having been a patient of Brad's a few years ago when he experienced his own shoulder injury.

"The man is just an amazing character," Dr. Jahan says. "He's so gentle and so knowledgeable. When he became a patient, I thought, 'Now it's my turn to take care of him the way he took care of me.'"

A time for rest and reflection
Today, Brad, who is 64 years old, is easing back into full-time work. He visits the cardiac rehabilitation gym inside Sharp Rehab a few times each week to continue strengthening his heart.

Brad also looks forward to returning to his other passion - the arts. Before the pandemic, he took professional photographs for ballet and theater companies, and also served as a physical therapist for actors and dancers.

He says this experience offered him the chance to reflect on his life and focus on his own health. Although doctors say an undiagnosed abnormal heart rhythm led to the cardiac arrest, Brad, who has a 7-year-old grandson, recognizes that he should slow down and rest.

"I'm so thankful for what everyone at Sharp did for me - from the moment I crashed the car to the team in the ICU and, of course, all of my Rehab colleagues," Brad says.

Joshua, the security guard, hopes to one day meet the man whose life he helped save.

"I want to give him a hug," Joshua says. "It was really rewarding to learn that not only did he survive, but that he recovered and was able to come back to work. I'm grateful that he gets another shot."

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