Donuts and coffee in hand, Nowell Wiggins walked into a refinery plant in Beaumont, Texas, and declared to his co-worker: "It's going to be a great day!";
Moments later, on Dec. 28, 2002, he almost died — from a cardiac arrest. "After I told her that, I took five steps and fell down and that was it," Wiggins said.
When he crashed to the floor, he wasn't breathing. He had no pulse. Without proper care, he would be dead within minutes.
But co-workers responded quickly. First, his terrified co-worker radioed his supervisor, who immediately called 9-1-1, then the company's first aid crew. Several co-workers performed CPR, desperately trying to revive Wiggins.
Still no pulse.
In less than two minutes, an emergency medical technician rushed to Wiggins' side, clutching one of the company's seven automated external defibrillators (AEDs). After one shock from the AED, Wiggins' normal heart rhythm resumed, and he began breathing again.
Several minutes later, an ambulance crew arrived. But paramedics didn't think "there was any way possible that I was going to pull through," Wiggins later learned.
Wiggins awoke in a hospital bed three days later. He says, "The only reason why I'm alive is because my co-workers refused to give up on me."
His co-workers demonstrate the importance of responding quickly to medical emergencies such as cardiac arrest, heart attack and stroke. They also reveal why it's critical to have AED programs available in public places — with lay people trained both to perform CPR and use an AEDs.
Before reaching the hospital or emergency room, sudden death caused by cardiac arrest claims some 330,000 American lives a year. Only about 5 percent of victims survive. But with more people trained in CPR and AED use, many more lives could be saved.
One of Wiggins' co-workers is a local American Heart Association board member who had convinced his employer to start a lay rescuer AED program.
"They saved my life," Wiggins said. "I'm very fortunate."
With an implanted defibrillator and pacemaker, Wiggins, 31, said he's fine now. He has no heart damage and is back working at the old refinery plant. And he's enjoying his family, including three kids.
It's all possible because his co-workers responded immediately to his cardiac arrest, using CPR and an AED — and saved his life.