It was an ordinary Tuesday for Tom Beach. After his shift ended at Short’s Marine – where he has worked for 27 years – he hit the gym at Club Fitness and started his usual workout. Beach spent 15 minutes on the elliptical machine then started doing sit-ups. “That’s the last thing I remember,” he said.
For Misty Cunningham, the day had been going less well. The registered nurse and her fiancé had planned to hit the gym in the morning and spend the rest of the day cleaning their home in Long Neck. Their gym trip was pushed to the afternoon, and then her 3-year-old son started acting up. “Nothing was smooth,” she said.
She was running late, and had just dropped off her son at the daycare center in Club Fitness when she caught sight of Beach lying motionless on the floor by the sit-up bench.
Three or four people were already standing around Beach. Cunningham said she almost walked straight to the treadmill to join her fiancé.
Instead, she dropped her gym bag, rushed over to Beach and began checking his pulse. “It was irregular and it was weak,” she said. “And his breathing was irregular as well.”
Beach, 66, had a heart attack.
Less than 30 seconds later, she said, “He quit breathing.”
Cunningham started CPR.
Andy Manning, a Cape Henlopen State Park ranger, was working out with headphones on. “I kind of felt a commotion behind me,” he said.
Manning said he turned around and saw Beach unconscious on the ground. “I saw Misty doing chest compressions on him,” he said.
Manning told Cunningham he was a first-responder and volunteered to take over chest compressions. He then told an employee of the gym to grab an automatic external defibrillator.
Club Fitness Manager Ben Wynne said he had just finished a workout when a member alerted him to Beach lying unconscious on the floor. Wynne grabbed an AED from behind the front desk and rushed to Beach.
Manning said, “Misty started doing compressions while I was putting the AED pads on him.”
They shocked Beach. Then Cunningham continued CPR.
“He took a deep breath, and tried to start breathing on his own,” Cunningham said. “His life came right back into him.”
Beach’s eyes started to focus, and his color came back, Cunningham said. An ambulance showed up less than 10 minutes later to take Beach to a hospital.
Beach said when he regained consciousness he was lying on a gurney being wheeled out of the entrance to the gym. His friend and fishing buddy Roger Gross said he would call Beach’s wife, Saundra, who was home in Angola, so she could meet him at the hospital.
At the emergency room, Beach said, he was fully conscious but still unsure of what had transpired. “All I could say was, ‘The gym can be a real killer,’” he joked.
Beach said just after he reached Beebe Healthcare, his wife, daughter and pastor arrived. During the three days he remained there, Cunningham called the hospital to check on him, but Beach said there are no phones in the intensive care unit where he was being treated.
Days later, Cunningham said, she got a phone call from Beach. “I just started crying,” she said. “Just to hear his voice…it really was so amazing.”
Beach also called Manning, who said Beach thanked him, and the two talked about the how Manning came to be at the gym when Beach collapsed. Like Cunningham, Manning said he was supposed to go to the gym earlier that day. “People come into your life for a reason,” he said.
Beach said he met Manning and Cunningham in person for lunch about a week after the Oct. 22 episode. Cunningham said the trio plans to meet for lunch once a month. “We really all have a bond now,” she said.
Cunningham said Beach is involved in a church near her home. Even though she doesn’t normally go to church, she said she plans to start meeting him on Sunday mornings, after she comes home from the night shift at Milford Memorial Hospital.
“It’s one of those moments in life I’m so proud to have had,” she said. “For him to come around and be alert by the time EMS got there…that’s pretty profound.”
Cunningham said people suffer respiratory arrest and cardiac arrest at her job, but she is working with a team of professionals with access to heart monitors, medications and crash carts. “It’s just so much different,” she said. “It was just very surreal.”
Cunningham said she has never seen someone who had stopped breathing moments earlier regain consciousness so immediately. “I’ve been a nurse for 13 years. I’ve never been able to witness that first-hand,” she said. “I feel blessed to have gone through it.”
Cunningham said if Beach had been alone or had to wait for an ambulance to arrive, he might not have made it.
A CPR instructor at his job, Manning said he has performed chest compressions during emergencies before. “It’s that muscle memory,” he said. You do what you have to do, and you do what you’re trained to do.”
Manning said he was also affected by speaking to Beach after the incident. “The whole thing was really surreal, how it all came together,” Manning said. “And him being a really nice guy and a really cool guy puts the icing on the cake.”
“I call them my CPR angels,” Beach said of Manning and Cunningham. “I had two people in there who knew what to do and how to do it.”
“For the most part, I stay pretty healthy,” Beach said. “I had no pain, anything, when this happened.”
Doctors agreed it was a family history of heart problems that caused the heart attack, Beach said; they told him it could have happened anywhere. “I was very fortunate that it happened here,” he said – at the gym.
Beach said he is undergoing cardio rehab, which includes light exercise like walking, so doctors can monitor his progress. Once he is finished, he said, he’d be back at the gym every Tuesday. “I enjoy it,” he said.
For information on local CPR classes, go to ahainstructornetwork.americanheart.org.