When Margaret and Fred Simpkins come to Florida every year to escape the harsh Michigan winters, they appreciate the opportunity to participate in the celebration of daily Mass at St. Anthony Parish in Lakeland. The couple were packing up their car to visit family out of town on the morning of March 23 when Fred suggested that they participate in the celebration of the 8:30 a.m. morning Mass before they left. It was a decision that would save his life.
“About halfway through Mass I looked at him and I couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t standing,” remembered Margaret. “He didn’t respond to me and I knew something was wrong.”
Fred, although in good health and without any previous warning signs, was having a heart attack. Fortunately St. Anthony Parish has an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) on the parish property and has been part of the Life Safety Solutions AED Program since the Diocese of Orlando enrolled in the program in 2014. Just two weeks prior the parish staff had undergone a training course in CPR and AED use from Life Safety Solutions. So when Debbie André, parish ministry coordinator, heard Margaret’s cries for help, she knew exactly what to do. While another parishioner called 911, André applied the pads of the AED machine and followed the voice instructions to send two shocks to Fred’s heart after the computer analyzed the heart’s rhythm. In between discharges a nurse who was participating in Mass administered CPR.
“By the time the fire department arrived his color was returning,” said André who was celebrating her birthday that day. “I feel like God put me on this earth 62 years ago to be there to save him.”
All diocesan schools, the majority of diocesan parishes, and Catholic Charities of Central Florida have an AED on property. As part of the Life Safety Solutions AED Program, participating entities receive medical oversight and inventory of all equipment, semi-annual inspections, and yearly CPR-AED trainings for up to 800 employees and volunteers. Tracy Dann, risk manager for the Diocese of Orlando, knows how critical it is to have the proper tools in an emergency and has supported the management of 135 AED machines in the diocese.
“When you have the proper equipment and the proper training you can save someone’s life,” said Dann. “I really commend the parish staff at St. Anthony for their response in this situation.”
As for the Simpkins, Fred underwent heart surgery on Friday, March 25, returned home the next day and they were back at St. Anthony Sunday morning, bringing up the gifts at the Easter morning Mass. The couple, who will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary this June, are both grateful they were at the parish that morning where help was available for them.
“His life was given back to him,” said Margaret. “There’s a reason for it. There is something God still wants him to do.”
“If you watch the evening news you wonder if there is any good in the world anymore,” adds Fred, “but this has taught me that there certainly are good people left! I just want to say thank you to all those people that helped me. It’s because of them that I’m here today.”