Valentine's Day gift for the heart: How CPR changed one couple's love story

CHICAGO, Illinois -- When someone goes into cardiac arrest, knowing how to perform CPR can make all the difference.

Illinois Heart Rescue, a program run by the University of Illinois at Chicago, was created in 2013 to increase survival rates for out of hospital cardiac arrests.

"If you start CPR within less than two minutes of that event, their odds of surviving have gone up at least three to five fold and that's dramatic," said Dr. Terry Vanden Hoek, the head of emergency medicine at UI Health and founder of IHR.

John Gray knows that first-hand. His then-girlfriend, Beatrice Villar, took a CPR class a month before he suffered a heart attack four years ago.

"He was lying on his back. His face was all red and he was gasping for air," she said.

She put her training into action.

"I started chest compression because I knew it was important to do that to get the blood and oxygen to the brain to keep him going," Villar said.

Gray said Villar saved his life.

"It is a second chance at life. It means the world to me literally," he said.

According to IHR, over the last several years in Illinois the survival rate for out of the hospital cardiac arrest has gone up from 2 percent to 10 percent. It's now on par with the national average.

Dr. Vanden Hoek said there's more work to be done.

"I don't think your chances of surviving should depend on what neighborhood you live in," he said.

Teri Campbell, a flight nurse and the director of IHR, said many people are surprised how easy it is to learn how to perform CPR.

"Here's the good thing. When you are doing CPR, you cannot seriously hurt somebody," she said.

And those minutes can add years to someone's life.

"I thought about one lesson learned from this event and that is try to find somebody or people who know CPR and spend as much time as you can with them and in my case that meant marrying Beatrice," Gray said.
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