This lesson became vivid for Danville resident Joe Farrell, 56, on two separate occasions, the first in August 2007.
"I was playing golf in Incline Village in Nevada," he recalled. "I sliced off the 11th tee onto the 12th fairway."
Farrell's golf buddy convinced him they should go looking for the ball and it's a good thing they did. Instead of the errant shot, they found a fellow golfer unconscious on the 12th green.
Farrell, a physical therapist trained in emergency procedures, checked the man's breathing and pulse, then began CPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation).
"I administered CPR and my friend Bill got ahold of the local fire department and they were there within six or eight minutes," said Farrell. "The helicopter arrived, EMTs shocked this guy, and he lived. The CPR and the AED (Automated External Defibrillator) gave him a chance for survival."
The man lived through the experience and Farrell maintains contact with him to this day.
And the experience gave Farrell a greater appreciation of the need for citizens to have CPR training. "From that day on, I told my buddies that I pray that if something like that happens, that someone around you knows CPR and you're in an area with quick access to paramedics and AEDs."
Little did Farrell know that less than a year later his prayers would be answered, at a friend's party he attended with his wife Edie.
"I was at a professional friend's house in Roseville," he remembered. "We weren't there five minutes and I collapsed. I don't remember it but friends tell me I said, 'Edie, I'm going down,' and then I just went down. And I don't remember anything until five days later when I woke up in a cardiac unit at the hospital."
Edie said it happened just that fast. "We had just gotten there. We hadn't had anything to eat or drink, so we didn't know what was wrong with him."
Colleagues immediately began CPR while an ambulance was called. "They kept me viable until the paramedics could come," Farrell said.
EMTs at the scene needed to use a defibrillator on Farrell and shock him four times before they could get his heart started again. He was transported to Sutter-Roseville Medical Center, where he went into arrest again and doctors needed to shock him two more times to get his heart moving.
The diagnosis was sudden death cardiac arrest. This is different from a heart attack, which is generally caused by circulatory problems. A blocked artery keeps oxygen from getting to the heart muscle, which becomes damaged.
With cardiac arrest the electrical impulses that tell the heart's ventricles to contract to keep blood flowing become disrupted. The ventricles flutter instead of contracting and blood flow stops.
"That's the thing about cardiac arrest, you don't get any warning signs," said Edie Farrell. "He fell down dead."
Farrell remained at Sutter-Roseville for nine days. During that time he had to be placed in a coma to minimize any brain damage from the lack of oxygen, as well as having a defibrillator implanted in his chest in case his heart should stop again.
Since coming home from the hospital, the Farrells have worked hard to recoup physically and emotionally from their ordeal, but also to get involved in the community and help raise awareness of CPR training and the necessity of being prepared.
"All this has really stimulated our desire that other family and friends don't go through this," Joe Farrell said. "We need to find a way to educate and stimulate interest in the training in the Bay Area and in California."
Farrell said currently only 5 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside of the hospital survive. But if CPR is administered within six to seven minutes of arrest, the chances of survival go up to 30 percent.
One area where they've gotten involved is the San Ramon Valley Public Access Defibrillator Partnership or PAD. The PAD comprises interested parties representing the fire district, police, hospitals, public and AED distributors of Automated External Defibrillators.
PAD co-chairman Andy Swartzell, a captain from the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District, said the committee works hard to raise awareness as well as to provide classes and training to residents. "We'd like to increase the number of people trained in bystander CPR and in the use of AEDs," he said.
The PAD does different training classes each month but there are many options for learning CPR. "Most of the classes that are offered are three to four hours because they go over more than just CPR. But people can learn CPR in as little as 20 minutes," Swartzell explained.
He said that there is a kit available from the American Heart Association which contains an education video and a training mannequin. "You can purchase them for around $30," Swartzell said, "then share it with family and friends."
Besides working with the PAD, the Farrells also have spoken to some groups in the area regarding the need for CPR and emergency training. The couple spoke at a recent Mayor's Morning, the monthly event held by Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich.
The Farrells said town officials have done a great job of making the town more "heart-safe." Every town building has an AED, as well as every police car. Seventeen AEDs have been placed in schools throughout the district, and many teachers and all town employees have been trained in CPR.
Danville Emergency Services Director Greg Gilbert said he is pleased that the town has done such a strong job of raising awareness about CPR and AEDs. Gilbert said that in addition to all of the classes through PAD and other agencies, residents can get emergency preparedness training through the Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) classes.
CERT, done through a partnership between Danville, San Ramon, San Ramon Fire Protection District and the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, is a 20-hour training program designed to help residents learn how to deal with and respond to emergencies. It incorporates medical training, emergency training, search and rescue training, and team organizational skills.
Gilbert said part of the training is dealing with emergency medical issues such as cardiac arrests and how to handle the AED units. "Using an AED combined with CPR increases a person's survivability," he said. "AEDs are very simple to use. If you can program a cell phone, you can use an AED."
Joe and Edie Farrell are going through the CERT training as well, and they highly recommend that Danville residents do so and learn how to best prepare for a disaster.
The couple cannot speak highly enough for the efficacy of CPR and the need to see that as many residents as possible are trained.
CPR training has changed over the past several years, with greater focus placed on maintaining chest compressions rather than on respiration. CPR trainer Jeff Haughy, a firefighter/paramedic, said that is because many people are uncomfortable administering mouth to mouth. Haughy said he has answered cardiac distress calls where people have refused to help because of concerns over possible disease or infection from doing mouth to mouth.
"I stress to the students in my class to just do something, doing something is better than doing nothing," Haughy said.
Students are taught to perform 100 compressions per minute. The Farrells said the best way to know you're on target for the right number of compressions is by doing the compressions to the beat of the song, "Stayin' Alive."
Joe Farrell said that having saved someone and having been saved by someone through CPR, he knows just what's at stake. "I'm one of the fortunate few. It's such an honor to save someone's life, but I'm so indebted to the people who saved my life," he said.
He said this event also made him acutely aware of the fragility of life. "The magnitude of it all," he said. "Our lives could have changed forever in five seconds."