Heart attack victim's 'second shot at life' thanks to Cedar Rapids first responders

Those who helped save man to be honored in ceremony Tuesday

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Dan Clarahan probably shouldn’t be here today.

The crash last December caused by a heart attack could have killed him. The passersby who saw the wreck could have kept on driving instead of stopping. The first responders who rendered first aid to him could have been farther away.

“All of these things came together,” said Clarahan, a 59-year-old business consultant from Greenleaf, Wis.

Clarahan will be back in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday to attend a ceremony recognizing the civilians and first responders who saved his life. The ceremony takes place at 3:30 p.m. in the Community Room at the Hall-Perrine Cancer Center, 701 10th St. SE.

“I’m excited about it, but I’m a little bit embarrassed,” Clarahan said last week. “I’m a little uncomfortable about being the center of this much attention. … If me commenting and doing this type of event can help recognize these kinds of people, then I’m delighted to help.”

Clarahan said he doesn’t remember the heart attack and subsequent crash on Dec. 3, or even several days leading up to it, something his doctors tell him is completely normal. He’s pieced the events together through police reports and talking with the people involved.

Around 1:14 p.m. that day, Clarahan was heading east on Highway 30 near the Kirkwood Boulevard exit. When the heart attack struck, Clarahan’s rental car hit the left guard rail and rode along it. When the guard rail ended, the vehicle took a sharp turn and crossed the opposite lanes of traffic.

Clarahan said he cut across two men — Chase Bennett and Jonathan Collanan — who were driving westbound on Highway 30. The men called 911, got out and began administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation — or CPR — to Clarahan, who was not breathing and did not have a pulse. This was the beginning of what first responders refer to as the “chain of survival.”

“They just did the right thing and they didn’t have to do that,” Clarahan said. “Them stopping was the single biggest human intervention.”

Sara Jansen, 53, of Cedar Falls, saw the crash and also stopped to help. Luckily, she was trained in CPR, as well.

“I jumped in and started doing CPR on the gentleman,” Jansen said. “I asked if they had called 911 and one of the guys was on 911. We just kept doing CPR until they got there.”

As CPR was being given, three Cedar Rapids police officers — Josh Carter, John Dunkleberger and Timothy Brown — along with Sgt. Chris Bieber, arrived on the scene, said Sgt. Michelle Omar. The officers were carrying an Automated External Defibrillator — or AED — and began providing medical care to Clarahan, which included one shock from the device.

Omar said the police department deploys its AEDs between five and 10 times a month.

“A lot of times, they don’t end up with the positive outcome that ended up happening with Mr. Clarahan,” Omar said.

In this case, the credit goes to the civilians who stopped, called 911 and started CPR, Omar said.

“Without their actions, he’s dead,” she said. “It wouldn’t have mattered what the officers would have done.”

The Cedar Rapids Fire Department and Area Ambulance — whose members have more medical training — arrived shortly thereafter and took over care for Clarahan. He was transported to Mercy Medical Center and treated for a completely blocked left ventricle — a widow maker, Clarahan said.

After having two stints put in his heart, Clarahan was discharged from the hospital after about 10 days. He says he’s doing “fantastic,” these days.

“My heart muscle is 100 percent, so they tell me,” he said. “Physically, I feel better. I’ve been eating better and exercising more.”

Clarahan said his family members started a list of all the people involved in his care. Clarahan has reached out to thank those who helped him and is looking forward to doing so again on Tuesday.

“It’s just an overwhelming gift to have a second shot at life,” he said. “There aren’t really words to express how you feel after that. … I’m going to try to make the best use of a second life.”

IF YOU GO

What: Ceremony to honor first responders

When: 3:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Hall-Perrine Cancer Center, 701 10th St. SE, Cedar Rapids

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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