Ron Good was talking and laughing with family members in his daughter’s Ephrata home when the 74-year-old, a jokester, suddenly leaned over onto granddaughter Kelsey Hornberger who was sitting next to him. He made a funny sound, like he was snoring.
“Gampy!” Kelsey said, “Are you kidding? You’re teasing, right?”
Ron’s wife, Karen, recalls, “I looked at his face and said, ‘No, he’s not kidding.’ I knew something terrible had happened.”
What happened: Ron’s heart had stopped beating in a normal rhythm and was quivering uselessly in his chest. His blood pressure was plummeting, the blood supply to his vital organs was being cut off and he was struggling to breathe, just minutes from death.
What happened next: Three things lined up perfectly to save and sustain his life.
Ron had no warning that he would suffer a cardiac arrest that evening, about a week before Christmas. He had cardiac bypass surgery five years ago and takes medication to control his cholesterol and blood pressure. But he was feeling good and maintains an active lifestyle, mowing his own lawn, golfing and playing ball with his grandsons. “I wouldn’t want to run a marathon,” he says, “but I’m in fair shape.”
“I never imagined that something like that would happen to me, but it did,” says Ron, a retired flooring store owner who lives two hours north of Ephrata in Luzerne County. “I am very, very lucky and so happy to be here!”
First: Family quickly jumps into action
Fortunately, one of his family members who was in the room that evening was Kelsey’s sister, Mason Hornberger, 22, a licensed massage therapist, who had CPR training last year as part of the schooling for her job.
“I never used it before,” she says. “I didn’t even know if I had the power to do it on stranger, let alone on my grandfather.”
After Ron collapsed, Mason’s dad and mom, Andy and Dina, who is Ron’s daughter, quickly helped to lower him to the floor. Mason began CPR, while her dad called 911. The dispatcher helped coach her over the phone as she did the chest compressions.
“My parents stayed next to me, saying, ‘You got this,’ “ Mason recalls. “At one point, I looked up at them and got nervous that I wasn’t doing the CPR right. I started to tear up a little bit and mom said, ‘Mason, we are so proud of you. Keep going!’ We all did a good job as a team.”
Second: Paramedic administers shocks
WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital paramedic Kevin Piersol was first on the scene, with an Ephrata Borough police officer right on his heels. The two were met outside by Kelsey, who said, “I am begging you! Please save my grandfather!”
Piersol said he did not know what to expect inside the house but was reassured when he saw Mason performing CPR. With a cardiac arrest, irreversible brain damage can occur within 5 to 6 minutes. And 5 minutes already had passed since Ron’s cardiac arrest.
“Without reservation, she saved his life,” Piersol says of Mason’s actions. “She kept everything circulating.”
“I have been doing this job for 10 years,” he says, “and I don’t know that I have ever seen such teamwork with a family. I can’t say enough about it. I have never been in a position to provide that kind of care to my loved ones. I can’t imagine how much strength and bravery and courage it takes.”
Piersol used a defibrillator to administer two shocks to restore Ron’s heart to a normal rhythm, giving him drugs to sustain it.
Third: Cardiologist offers state-of-the-art care
Ron was taken to WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital where he underwent a cardiac catheterization, which showed no new blockages in his heart. It turned out that his cardiac arrest was caused by a “short circuit” in his heart that occurred between healthy heart tissue and tissue that had been damaged by previous heart attacks, says Dr. Anwar Chahal, M.D., Ph.D., of WellSpan Cardiology.
Chahal implanted a pacemaker/defibrillator device in Ron to help prevent future cardiac arrests.
“This is essentially an emergency response crew that is inside him 24/7,” Chahal says. “It’s always watching his heart. If he has a dangerous rhythm, it’s going to act, by either ending the rhythm by pacing, or, if that fails, shocking him from the inside to put him back into a normal rhythm.”
Chahal notes he put measures in place to save Ron’s life in the future but that would not have been possible without Mason’s actions.
“The hero is his granddaughter, no question. This is the argument that shouldn’t we all learn CPR? Someone who is well-trained in CPR is more effective than the medical staff turning up later with all the gadgets and gizmos in the world,” Chahal says. “She is the one who saved his life that night – not us!”
The rest of the story
Five days later, Good’s family picked him up at the hospital and celebrated his return to their lives. The cardiac arrest story ends here, but the love, the gratitude and, of course, the laughter do not.
Karen Good says, “He had two nurses with him, helping him when he left the hospital, and they were talking and laughing. He’s a ladies’ man and he was having fun. It was a great surprise to see how good he looked. He came home two days before Christmas, and it was the greatest Christmas present ever.”
Mason says, “It was kind of like one of those one-in-a-million experiences. I’m so happy it had a good ending. I feel lucky to have been there for my grandpa.”
Piersol says, “What more of a special time could this have happened than at Christmas? After the year we just endured, we need some positivity. Here it is.”
Ron Good says, “I feel great! Everyone was so fantastic. I am so appreciative of everything.”
Learn about WellSpan's Heart Month activities by going here.