Nov. 8, 2021

Cardiac researcher uses CPR to save lives of 2 strangers enjoying the outdoors, 18 months apart

Corey Adams urges everyone to learn life-saving technique to give others a second chance

University of Calgary clinician-scientist Dr. Corey Adams, MD, advocates that everyone learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The Libin Cardiovascular Institute cardiac surgeon is a bit of an expert in this area, as he has used the technique to save two men’s lives in the last year and a half.

Both incidents occurred while Adams and his family randomly came across strangers, Eric McVeigh, 34, and Darrell Parker, then 60, who had suddenly collapsed while enjoying outdoor activities. He later operated on both men, effectively saving each of their lives twice.

“CPR can be done anywhere and at any time, and it saves lives,” Adams says. “Giving someone more Christmases and more time with their family is rewarding.”

Sudden cardiac arrest

McVeigh is incredibly thankful to be given a second chance at life.

On Aug. 8, he went out for a morning run in a Calgary inner-city community. It was a regular occurrence for McVeigh, who leads an active lifestyle, running three to five times a week, playing hockey and working out regularly.

But part way through his run, McVeigh’s chest felt heavy, and he suddenly felt short of breath, causing him to pause briefly before restarting his run. Those first few steps after stopping to catch his breath are the last thing he remembers before waking up in the emergency room. 

What McVeigh didn’t know is that he had collapsed and was unresponsive due to sudden cardiac arrest.

Fortunately, Adams, his wife, Dr. Jennifer Adams, MD, and his two kids were in their vehicle headed to a recreation centre when they pulled up to an intersection and Jennifer saw McVeigh fall on the nearby path.

When he didn’t get up, the couple sprang into action. They pulled over and Adams assessed McVeigh. When he realized McVeigh had no pulse and wasn’t breathing, Adams immediately began CPR. Adams and his wife continued with CPR and called EMS while another passerby checked a local grocery store for an AED.

Unable to locate a defibrillator, Adams continued CPR for several minutes before paramedics arrived and whisked the man off to the Foothills Medical Centre, where he later underwent open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve and rebuild his aorta. Adams was his surgeon.

“When I woke up, I thought I was dreaming,” said McVeigh. “I have no memory of collapsing, or the trip in the ambulance.

Words can’t really do justice to how grateful I am to Dr. Adams and his wife. I have a second chance at life.

McVeigh was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition as a baby, but felt he outgrew the symptoms and stopped going for his annual checkups with a cardiologist.  He now urges anyone in a similar situation to continue their treatment.

“I was diagnosed with aortic stenosis when I was a baby,” he says. “As a child and in my early teen years, I visited cardiologists annually and I had some symptoms: when I was active I got winded before others would.”

Like McVeigh, Darrell Parker was enjoying some time outdoors — hiking at Grassi Lakes near Canmore in June 2020 — when he suffered a heart attack and collapsed. Within minutes, several passersby, including Adams and his family, took turns doing CPR until the paramedics arrived.

Adams later performed a five-bypass surgery on Parker, who was visiting the area from his home in Saskatchewan, to remove severe blockages in his heart. He is still well and enjoying life.

According to Heart and Stroke, there are nearly 60,000 hospitalizations a year for heart attack in Canada.

“It has been amazing to be part of both of these incidents,” says Adams. “As a surgeon, it’s nice to celebrate the positives.”

Eric McVeigh

Eric McVeigh suffered from sudden cardiac arrest and collapsed while on a run and was saved by cardiac surgeon Corey Adams.

Courtesy Eric McVeigh

Want to learn CPR? UCalgary Active Living offers Canadian Red Cross CPR classes that are open to the public. View course offerings and sign up here

Corey Adams is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Cardiac Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine and a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.