Gene Cragoe - Lucky to be alive

Updated:Jun 13,2014

Gene Cragoe MNIt was around 7 p.m. when Gene Cragoe drove his van down the busy, four-lane highway the short distance to his office to check on something.

He suddenly began to feel dizzy and thought he might pass out, so he pulled over. He ended up in someone’s yard, on a retaining wall, confused and disoriented. He didn’t recall how he got there.

There was a knock at the window, and a woman helped him out of the car. Fortunately, he’d crashed in front of the house of an off-duty EMT, who rushed to help.  Once out of the car, however, Gene collapsed.

Doctors think he had two cardiac events, one while driving and the other after being pulled from the car. The second event stopped his heart altogether. The off-duty EMT did CPR for about two minutes until police arrived. Here’s where the story comes full circle.

Gene’s daughters, Pam and Peggy, have both contributed to improving their community’s response to cardiac emergencies — Pam advocating for CPR training and other cardiovascular legislation as the grassroots advocacy director for the American Heart Association, and Peggy as a community leader who participated in the fundraising effort to equip local police cars with AEDs. That evening, their work lives and personal lives collided in the very best way.

It took just one shock from the AED to bring Gene back. He started talking, concerned that no one was hurt when he crashed his car. After being transported to the local ER, he was airlifted to a bigger hospital in Sioux Falls. That’s when the Sheriff called Gene’s wife, who let his daughters know what had happened. 

“When I got to the ER in Sioux Falls, my dad was awake and talking, and I still didn’t think it was that serious,” Pam said. “The physician’s assistant told me my dad had had a sudden cardiac arrest, and was lucky to be alive. I about fell over. I couldn’t believe it was that serious. Turns out, he’d had a very deadly arrhythmia — one that only five out of 100 people survive. That’s when it hit me how close a call this really was.”

If Gene hadn’t received CPR immediately, if the police officer hadn’t used an AED, the outcome would have been much different, and his three grandkids who graduated from high school the following weekend would have had a very different family gathering overshadowing their celebrations.