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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

March 31, 2006

Friends, technology save a life during rec game

by Dan Kuester

When Clyde "Skip" Walter fell down during the Wednesday basketball game in Beyer gym, it wasn't unusual. Not that Walter was known as a stumbler. But in this pickup game, the regulars are professors and staff who are better known for twisting ankles than twisting dunks.

Skip Walter

Logistics professor Clyde "Skip" Walter, next to the electronic defibrillator that helped save his life during a basketball workout at Beyer Hall. Photo by Bob Elbert.

But when teammate Rick Dark got to Walter, it was clear this was no turned ankle.

Something was wrong. Walter's breathing was light. Then it stopped altogether.

Dark checked for a pulse. Nothing.

Walter was having a heart attack or, technically, an episode of sudden cardiac death.

Dark shouted to a passerby to call 911 and then he started CPR.

Alisa Link of the Beyer staff was working downstairs when someone alerted her to the situation. When she got to Walter, she took over rescue breathing.

Within a few minutes, word of an injury got to athletic trainer Tim Weesner, who was in the women's gymnastics practice down the hall.

"I ran to the gym thinking someone had sprained an ankle," Weesner said.

But when he saw Walter lying on the floor, with no pulse and already turning blue from lack of oxygen, he knew this was more than he expected, but not more than he was trained for.

Defibrillator time

"I was surprised at first, then slowed down, calmed down and did a survey of the situation," he said.

Weesner took over the CPR with the help of student trainer Josh Severin and sent for his automatic electronic defibrillator (AED).

When the AED arrived, Weesner applied the wired adhesive pads to Walter's chest and turned on the machine. An AED sends a low electrical current through the body to analyze the heart's rhythm. And, if needed, the AED also instructs the user to give the patient a shock through those same adhesive pads.

Weesner waited about 10 seconds for the machine to get a reading. Finally, it indicated Walter's heart needed a shock.

So, just like on the medical shows, Weesner cleared everyone away from Walter and pushed the button. A jolt of electricity shot through Walter's body.

"It's not as dramatic as you see on television," said Weesner. "But it's also more dramatic because it's real."

Walter's heart was beating, but his breathing was still shallow. A minute went by and Walter's heart stopped again.

The AED recommended another shock. Again, Weesner sent the charge through Walter's body.

This time, it seemed to take. The pulse was strong and rapid, and soon Walter started breathing on his own. Just then, the ambulance arrived to take Walter to the hospital.

That was almost two months ago.

In the days since, Walter has regained much of his strength and has resumed teaching classes in logistics and supply chain management in the Gerdin Business Building. He went on his planned spring break trip to London. As a concession to his attack, he did give up some of his non-teaching duties in the College of Business and also put his research on hold.

Reflection time

During his recovery, he has had time to think. About his friends who acted quickly to save him. About the staff who had been trained to act in an emergency. About the AED unit that shocked him back to life.

"They saved my life," he said. "If that defibrillator wasn't there, that would have been it for me."

Iowa State athletic facilities started getting AEDs more than two years ago according to Mike Harvey, director of Recreation Services. In the past year, units have been installed in other buildings on campus. Now, the total number of AED units on campus has climbed to 22. Five of those are in campus police cars.

Angie Jewett of the Environmental Health and Safety office knows the investment was worth it.

"I'm glad to see that our system has worked," she said. "When the AEDs are used properly, they can save lives."

Any building or department can get an AED, and the environmental health office will pay for the installation, Jewett said. She also hopes that any group getting an AED would alert her office.

AEDs are becoming common rescue devices. All Big 12 schools now have them in athletic facilities. And many, such as Iowa State, have them in non-athletic buildings. They are even found in airports and malls.

If it were up to Walter, there would be an AED in more campus buildings. But not for himself. After his episode in the gym, he had a pacemaker and a defibrillator implanted under his skin to constantly monitor his heart.

Walter's father died from a heart attack at 53, so the professor, 63, knew a heart problem was a possibility. But he didn't think it would happen during one of his weekly basketball games.

"You're never ready," he said. "It isn't something you put on your calendar and get ready for."


"They saved my life. If that defibrillator wasn't there, that would have been it for me."

Skip Walter