Fast action administering CPR credited with saving man’s life

Jeff Bidigare, right, stands next to Travis Alexander, director of personal training at Marquette’s YMCA, who saved his life after he had a heart attack while exercising at the YMCA about a month ago. Alexander is next to Jeff’s daughter, Wendy Dudley, and wife, Arlene Bidigare. (Courtesy photo from Travis Alexander)

MARQUETTE — Jeff Bidigare was doing his usual weekly exercises at the YMCA in Marquette when he lost consciousness and woke up hours later in the hospital to discover he sustained a “widow-maker” heart attack.

While hooked up to a ventilator, Jeff’s wife, Arlene Bidigare, and his daughter, Wendy Dudley, reassured him he was going to be OK.

Confused at first, Jeff slowly started remembering the last place he had been was the YMCA, where CPR had been performed on him, saving the 77-year-old’s life.

Travis Alexander, director of personal training at the YMCA, said he was working with a client next to Jeff when he saw him go into cardiac arrest.

“I checked all his vitals and he wasn’t breathing. He didn’t have a pulse,” Alexander said. “So I started to administer CPR on him and our AED (automated external defibrillator) was brought out, which we had to use to actually charge him. I did chest compressions on him for about three minutes and that’s when the paramedics came here and then they jumped in and took over.

“Fortunately our whole staff is trained and certified with first aid, CPR and AED. Fortunately his pulse came back and he starting breathing because of that training.”

Jeff said Aug. 18, the day of the heart attack, started off like any regular day.

“It was a Saturday,” he said. “I had breakfast and coffee that morning and felt really good. Usually when I get to the Y, I’ll look to see if the gym is open. If it’s not in use, I’ll go in there and walk. Sometimes I shoot baskets but that particular morning I just walked. I think I walked 10 or 15 laps around the gym.”

After using a variety of machines, Jeff said he still felt fine, but around 9:15 a.m. he collapsed.

“I was on the recumbent bike and I collapsed,” Jeff said. “There’s a bar there that supports the bike and I must have landed on that bar because I did quite a bit of damage to the left side on my body. I had a large hematoma on my hip. I twisted my knee and my left foot got caught in the pedal.

“I was told they used the big paddle on me three times. Travis said it looked like I was levitating because it’s such a shocking device, I guess, it just raises you off the floor. It must have been a sight to see.”

While he was at the hospital, doctors discovered Jeff’s left anterior descending artery was 98 percent blocked. One long stent was put in place so he didn’t have to undergo open-heart surgery.

Afterwards, Arlene said tests were done on Jeff’s heart but they didn’t find muscle or brain damage because CPR was started so quickly. The doctors told the family if Jeff had been out walking anywhere else, he might not have been so lucky.

Jeff said he plans to go back to the YMCA after he’s finished with rehab.

“I’ll gradually work my way back into that,” he said. “I feel pretty good, but it’s pretty easy to get down sometimes when you think about what you’ve been through. But that’s where the amazing staff has come in. The quality of the people they have at the hospital. My doctors, Dr. Dehlin’s staff and his office and now Dr. Jean’s staff — everybody’s has a lot of patience and a lot of good advice. They’re helping me get through this. I’m happy I was in Marquette when this happened.”

Jeff arrived at the hospital 23 minutes after collapsing at the YMCA, “which is just amazing,” Arlene said.

The Bidigares moved to Marquette from the Detroit area several years ago to be closer to Wendy and her husband, Pat.

“If we had been living in the city, I don’t know if everything would have clicked this well,” Jeff said. “It just makes my head spin when I think about just how quickly everybody got together.”

Jeff began cardiac rehab on Sept 5. At his last doctor’s visit, he and Arlene asked if they’d be able to go away on winter vacation to Las Vegas and a cruise in Mexico to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. They were given the OK.

“We can’t say enough about the hospital and the Y,” Arlene said. “Everybody involved. Doctor Bill Jean was wonderful, the ICU people were terrific, Jeff’s primary doctor, Christopher Dehlin, the nurses, X-ray techs, police and fire departments, everyone. It was just amazing.”

The Bidigare family and Alexander of the YMCA said they can’t stress the importance of first aid, CPR and AED training enough. With the help of the community and his family and friends, Jeff is expected to make a full recovery.

If Alexander hadn’t performed CPR on Jeff as promptly as he did, Jeff might not be here today. CPR, first aid and AED certifications are valid for two years. A few places offering services in Marquette are: Superior Life Services; Northern Michigan University REC Sports; Superior Pro Training; YMCA; and American Red Cross.