published Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Kennedy: Stayin' alive in Coon Rapids, Minnesota (with video)

  • photo
    Chattanooga Firefighters dance to “Stayin’ Alive” in a screenshot of the YouTube video. The video is being credited with helping to save a man’s life in Coon Rapids, Minn.

This is the unlikely story of how a viral YouTube video made in Chattanooga by firefighters in training last summer may have saved a guy's life a thousand miles away.

A few days ago I talked to a man in Minnesota named Scott Matson, a 51-year-old International Paper plant worker who handles those little cardboard circles inside Tombstone frozen pizza packages.

Matson and his girlfriend, Mitzi Kellar, a 911 dispatcher, spent part of the evening of July 31 at a public park in Coon Rapids, a small town in Anoka County, Minn., on the northern outskirts of Minneapolis. There was a three-piece band playing classic rock -- Stray Cats songs and even a little Elvis.

Some people were dancing. One of the dancers, a middle-age man, collapsed. The man's wife -- or maybe she was his girlfriend -- knelt down to roll him over.

Things looked bad -- a heart attack, perhaps.

"His eyes had a glazed look," Matson recalls. "His girlfriend was saying something to him and he wasn't responding. Then he started changing color."

Matson's first impulse: Don't get involved. But Kellar automatically shifted into emergency mode and called 911.

The two found themselves in a circle of people around the fallen man. Some began trying to perform CPR -- awkwardly. They took turns doing chest compressions. Matson quickly remembered something from his safety training at work: Put your weight into those compressions, he told the others. You have to push hard, really hard.

Meanwhile, Matson ran off in search of help. He sprinted over to a park worker with a walkie-talkie, but quickly realized he was just a teenager with no emergency training. He boarded a public bus in hopes of finding a portable defibrillator, but had no luck.

In desperation, he sprinted back to the stricken man.

CPR is hard work. Some of the bystanders, who were taking turns with the chest compressions, were frantic, with no sense of tempo.

That's when Matson had an epiphany. Here is the right speed for the compressions, Matson said, suddenly snapping his fingers.

"I don't know where it came from," he said. "But I somehow knew exactly what to do."

Matson took control. He stepped up and began singing and snapping his fingers to the tune of a classic Bee Gees song from the movie "Saturday Night Fever. "

"This is the beat," Matson said, and then he began to sing, "Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive. Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive."

OK -- time out. Picture this, now. You walk up on a collapsed man in a public park while a group of good Samaritans is trying to revive him. Meanwhile, this one dude is singing "Stayin' Alive" and snapping his fingers.

OK.

Matson had suddenly remembered a viral video from last summer in which rookie Chattanooga firefighters had demonstrated proper hands-only CPR technique by dancing to the disco tune. The song's tempo, it turns out, is just right for this kind of CPR, 100 beats per minute.

"Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive," Matson sang. "Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive."

Soon the sick man's color began to improve, and within minutes somebody arrived with a defibrillator.

Things moved quickly after that. The rescuers heard sirens approaching. By the time the heart-attack victim was loaded into the ambulance, he was talking to others. The next day, Kellar checked with her sources in the emergency community who reported that the man, whose name they didn't release, seemed to be on the road to recovery. Word this week is that he's still on the mend.

"That is so cool," Bruce Garner, a fire department spokesman here and the creator of the video made by the 2013 graduating class of the Chattanooga Fire Academy, said when told about events in Minnesota. "It's gratifying to hear."

Garner explains that he got the idea for the video from a American Heart Association public service announcement that noted the link between hands-only CPR and the tempo of "Stayin' Alive."

Often when people try creative things like the "Stayin' Alive" video, they say, "If this saves just one life, it will all be worth it."

Well, in this case, it did and it was.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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