Eric Rothenburg

My son, Benji, plays competitive high school lacrosse. In fact, he’s the starting goalie. Nothing gets my heart beating faster than watching him play an intense game where every play is critical, every minute counts, and a big save makes all the difference. In a recent playoff overtime game he was all that stood between keeping the team alive and sudden death. He made the save. The team won. As a parent it’s almost heart-stopping to watch.

In late-September 2009 I was playing tennis at our local club in a far less-intense match than last week’s lacrosse game, with nothing on the line except bragging rights. We were about to win, I was receiving serve, and though we had been playing for about 45 minutes my heart wasn’t beating particularly fast. In fact, at that point it was beating much at all… When the serve came I was starting to feel lightheaded. I swung and missed, then went down face first onto the court. Without warning I was in Sudden Cardiac Arrest (aka Sudden Cardiac Death). My partner screamed for someone to call 9-1-1.

Fortunately for me there a few guys nearby (my “team”), ready to act when every move is critical, when every minute counts, and make a big save. Two started CPR almost immediately; a third ran and grabbed the Automated External Defibrillator (AED). Within minutes the pads were attached to my chest and I was shocked, twice, to take my heart out of fibrillation and into a sustainable rhythm. When I came to the medics and firefighters, who only arrived after my pulse had returned, were leaning over me.

I’m lucky. Sudden Cardiac Arrest is the leading cause of death each year in the United States, affecting more than 360,000 annually or about 1,000 people EACH DAY. Sadly, fewer than 1 out of 10 survive and most do not receive CPR from a bystander. For every minute that goes by for someone in cardiac arrest who does not receive CPR and defibrillation, their chance of survival goes down by 10%. These are sobering statistics.

But consider this: Recent studies, including work done by UW Medicine, show that CPR from a bystander can double the survival rate from cardiac arrest. The American Heart Association says, “If you see an unresponsive adult who is not breathing or not breathing normally, call 9-1-1 and push hard and fast on the center of the chest.” Do it to the beat of Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees – a rate of about 100 compressions per minute. That person is twice as likely to survive if you do something than if you do nothing.

Want to be even more prepared? Take a class and learn CPR. Bring your friends, family, and coworkers. Go to or to learn more. Nearly 88 percent of cardiac arrests occur at home – so the life you save with CPR is likely to be someone close to you.

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Eric Rothenberg, 46, is a Survivor-Advocate and Volunteer for the American Heart Association as well as a Volunteer for the American Red Cross. He lives in Mercer Island with his wife, Edith, and twin teenage boys, Zach and Benji.  

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