A Heart-Stopping Day at the Beach

February 22, 2022 Providence News Team

Adam Bedford surfing

Swift emergency care saved the life of a young man who was riding the waves when disaster struck.

Just after noon on August 20, emergency room staff at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance received a report that paramedics were bringing in a young patient in full cardiopulmonary arrest.

The patient was 24-year-old physical therapy aide Adam Bedford, whose heart had stopped while he was surfing in heavy, five-to-eight- foot waves in Manhattan Beach and he nearly drowned. The ambulance bypassed closer hospitals, racing Bedford to Providence Little Company of Mary, which is a state- and county- certified myocardial infarction (heart attack) receiving center.

“We prepared our resuscitation bay,” says Leonardo Rodriguez, MD, the emergency physician who treated Bedford when he arrived in the ER.

Bedford doesn’t remember the accident, and it’s unclear why his heart stopped or how he nearly drowned. He’s comfortable in the kind of surf he experienced that day. Although he was fully vaccinated, he’d come down with COVID-19 about a month before the accident. However, neither he nor Dr. Rodriguez thinks it contributed to the incident.

Reconstructing what happened from his medical records, physician reports and information from friends and relatives, Bedford says it began when a longtime surfing buddy saw him floating face down in the water. Her screams brought help from a lifeguard free- swimming past the waves. They pulled Bedford onto her longboard and headed to shore. Lifeguards there immediately began CPR and waited for paramedics to arrive.

When Bedford’s heart started pumping, it produced an irregular and non-perfusing heart rhythm, so the paramedics employed a defibrillator. Three minutes later, they delivered another powerful shock that restarted his heart.

“When he arrived, he was unconscious, but with a good heartbeat,” says Dr. Rodriguez. “He was struggling to breathe. I suctioned out the ocean water pouring from his lungs so I could intubate him. We also started the hypothermia protocol—cooling his body to 36 degrees centigrade [about 97 F] for 24 hours—to give his brain an opportunity to heal from any injury that occurred from lack of oxygen.”

In the hospital two days later, Bedford awoke to be told he’d had a surfing accident. At first he didn’t believe the doctors.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “I don’t think I was in a surfing accident.” Then he felt his hair. “It was sandy.”

Five days after he was brought to the emergency room, Bedford walked out of the hospital. He had suffered no neurological damage. The physical recovery has been more challenging, but Bedford is a mind-over-matter kind of guy and an athlete who knows his body well. Less than two months later, feeling completely recovered, he was back in the water surfing. At the time of the accident, Bedford had recently graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in health and exercise science. He plans to attend graduate school to earn a doctorate in physical therapy so he can train athletic teams.

He feels lucky to be alive. The emergency department at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center is a large, robust unit staffed 24/7 with specialists trained to respond to any emergency situation, including heart attacks, strokes, obstetric emergencies, trauma and pediatric emergencies.

Despite the excellence of the emergency care at Providence Little Company of Mary, including his own efforts, Dr. Rodriguez credits the lifeguards and paramedics who performed CPR for 15 minutes with saving Bedford’s life.

“Community-based CPR is so important,” he says. “We can only serve the population if they make it to us alive.”

In addition to its certification as a center for heart attack victims, Little Company’s emergency room is a comprehensive stroke center, certified for its excellence in stroke care. It also has dedicated pediatric-trained emergency physicians available who focus their expertise on kids.

There’s a saying with stroke that “time is brain.” The sooner doctors can begin treatment, the more likely it is that brain function can be preserved. Dr. Rodriguez says the same is true for the heart.

That Bedford had a full recovery is remarkable, and it’s thanks to the help of a fast-thinking friend, lifeguards, paramedics and medical teams at Providence Little Company of Mary.

“Get to the ER fast,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “There are things we can do to help, and they are time-sensitive.”

If the following symptoms of heart attack or stroke occur, quick response can help save lives.

  • Crushing chest pain, weakness or shortness of breath can signal a heart event, as can pain in the jaw, neck, back or one or both arms.
  • Shortness of breath, fatigue or exertion that doesn’t go away with rest, or less specific chest symptoms, might indicate a heart problem in women or the elderly.
  • Facial drooping/asymmetry, arm weakness on one side of the body or difficulty speaking may signal stroke.

For more information on the emergency departments at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Centers San Pedro and Torrance, call 844-925-0942.

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