Citizen CPR stories make for challenging portraits

I was brought in to work on a project that took a look at the rate of survival of cardiac arrest patients in The Villages. As it turns out, if you’re going to have a heart attack, The Villages is the place you want to be.

Let me clarify. There is an extremely high density of AEDs and people trained to use them spread throughout the community. Often times your neighbor could be helping you before emergency services could get there. That little bit of time can make a huge difference.

The anchor of this package was four stories — four people who suffered cardiac arrest and those who saved them. My task was to make portraits of the pairs.

Forty. That’s how many times people in The Villages went into sudden cardiac arrest in the last two years, yet were able to walk out of the hospital because they benefited from bystanders and professional EMS care, followed by quality hospital care. Sadly, “cardiac saves” are hard to come by in America, even though we know what can help save them. In some communities, a cardiac arrest victim hopes their stars align to give them a glimmer of hope. In The Villages, the stars are a little stronger, creating better odds. It’s those who take the time out to be trained in CPR and AED use, and those who aggressively plan and prepare for these moments, because they know time of the essence. Brayden Moeller, Tom Davies, Billy LaCasse and Larry Bidwell are just four living and breathing examples of how it works. They’re four cardiac survivors sharing their thanks and stories, so you know how important CPR and AED skills are.

I chose to bring the subjects to the site of the incident. I photographed them at dusk to best control the lighting.

The first one I shot was a man who collapsed while playing softball.

If Jan. 26, 2018 had gone a little differently for Larry Bidwell, he might not be alive. Bidwell went into cardiac arrest while playing softball at Saddlebrook Softball Complex. He had just scored a run in the game and went to play first base in the next inning when he collapsed. The Village of Glenbrook resident said he barely remembers anything from that day, but Joe Phipps recalls it clearly. Phipps was scorekeeping for another game when he noticed everyone crowding around Bidwell. When he saw Bidwell was unresponsive he started doing CPR, then someone brought him the complex’s AED. “I work for Community Watch and we all have AEDs in our cars, but that’s the first time I ever had to use one,” said Phipps, also of Glenbrook. Bidwell fully recovered a few weeks later and played in the next softball season. He plays four times a week and golfs occasionally. “I don’t have any limitations. I just play like I used to,” he said. “I’m glad I was on the softball field when it happened. If it had happened on the way there or the way home, I wouldn’t be here right now. Bidwell’s daughter sent Phipps a letter shortly after the incident thanking Phipps for having the courage and strength to save her father. “It all comes down to keeping your head,” Phipps said. “I feel a little bit more prepared now. In the future, I won’t feel the need to hesitate to help at all.”
Joe Phipps, left, and Larry Bidwell on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, at Saddlebrook Softball Complex.

The second one was maybe the most challenging. I had to boom a light out over a pool to light my subject from the correct angle. I also had to be careful to keep myself (and camera) from falling face first in the pool!

Tom Davies only had 25 yards left to swim, but his heart couldn’t make it that far. The Village Alhambra resident was swimming the 500-yard freestyle in the Laurel Manor sports pool during the 2017 The Villages Senior Games when he suddenly stopped moving in the water. Davies had gone into cardiac arrest and was unresponsive after Villages Aquatic Swim Team coach Bob Jennings pulled him out of the water. Patrick Elsmore and Nora Kimble started CPR while Molly Farrar, recreation facilities manager at Mulberry Grove Recreation Center, retrieved the poolside AED. “I have had a heart attack before, so when that happened I knew it wasn’t a heart attack,” Davies said. His eyes finally popped back open after Farrar activated the AED. Farrar said Davies was responsive and talking before he even got in the ambulance. “They did CPR on me and it didn’t work — the AED is what saved my life,” Davies said. “If I was anywhere else, I probably would have died.” Farrar said recreation employees get recertified in CPR and AED training every two years. “I have never had to do anything like that before, and it was definitely a stressful situation,” she said. “But I always encourage people to find out where AEDs are and don’t be afraid to help.” Davies got back to swimming two months later and competed in the next year’s Senior Games.
Tom Davies, from left, of the Village of Alhambra, Molly Farrar, of Wildwood, and Patrick Elsmore, of the Village of Fenney, on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, at Laurel Manor Sports Pool.

I felt like I was getting into a rhythm with them. That was till the next one which required five lights! I ran out of light stands so I asked my colleague to serve as a human light stand for one of the speedlights.

Billy LaCasse had no idea why he woke up in the hospital on March 22, 2018. The Village of Gilchrist resident later found out he had a heart attack that caused him to go into cardiac arrest while mowing his lawn that day. LaCasse is a responder with the Gilchrist West AED program. His wife, Penny, heard his phone goes off from an alert from ReadyAlert telling him there was a cardiac emergency in the area. “Before I even got to look at the phone to see where it was, someone knocked on my door to tell me my husband was lying in the street,” she said. A few houses down, Vinny Caso was enjoying a post-pickleball snack when he got the ReadyAlert notification. Caso grabbed the AED off his house and rushed to the corner of Luraville Road and Friar Way where another responder had already started CPR on Billy. Caso shocked him with the AED and took over on CPR until EMS arrived. While doctors credit the actions of Caso and other responders for Billy’s survival, Billy and Caso give all that credit back to Jeff Wilson, the AED coordinator for their neighborhood. “When he was trying to get the program going here, he was relentless,” Caso said. “What happened to Billy could have happened to any of us.” Billy said he received more than 140 cards and well-wishes from people after the incident. “I’m just really glad to be here,” he said.
Billy Lacasse, right, of the Village of Gilchrist, and his his neighbor, Vinny Caso, on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in The Villages.

The last one was on an unusually cold night in Florida. And it was the only kid I was photographing. The boy was struck by lightning after a soccer tournament. He was clearly uncomfortable in the cold. I threw my jacket to the side to show him I was willing to freeze with him for the photo.

On Labor Day 2017, Cindy Moeller got a call no mother wants. Her husband, Bill, was urging her to rush to The Villages Regional Hospital where their son, Brayden, was fighting for his life after getting struck by lightning at The Villages Polo Club. Then 12-year-old Brayden still had a chance in that fight thanks to Anderson DaSilva, president of The Villages Soccer Club. DaSilva saw the strike while cleaning up from the youth soccer tournament Brayden and Bill were there to watch. DaSilva sprinted toward Brayden, starting CPR when he couldn’t find a pulse. “When we were at the hospital, the doctors were talking about things like organ failure and brain damage, but Brayden just kept beating every obstacle they thought he’d have,” Cindy said. “They said if Anderson hadn’t been there, there’s no way he would have survived.” Anderson, who has three kids of his own, said he tried to focus on just acting rather than panicking. “I think having the CPR certification is so important, and so is being mentally ready so you don’t freeze up,” he said. Though lucky to be alive, Brayden deals with lasting nerve pain, Cindy said. Brayden, now 14, was more excited than nervous to get back to playing goalkeeper for his team. He’s wrapping up his first full soccer season since the strike and completing eighth grade. The Moeller family got a Great Dane puppy upon Brayden’s return home, which Brayden named Bolt.
Brayden Moeller, left, and Anderson DaSilva on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, at The Villages Polo Club.

Overall, I was happy with how they turned out. While these people died and were brought back, I wanted these images to have a positive vibe. I felt like we accomplished that.

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