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After CPR saves Papillion coach, friends raise money to buy defibrillators

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The people who were at Eagle Ridge Park in Papillion when Dave Lawrence had a heart attack are, from left, Tim Whitmarsh, Mike Tranchilla, Dennis Svoboda, Ivy Svoboda, Dave Lawrence and Sean Knight. The photo was taken about 45 days after Lawrence’s heart attack.

The six members of the exercise group had just finished a 1-mile jog before starting their workout in Papillion’s Eagle Ridge Park.

As they stood around, Dave Lawrence, a teacher and soccer coach at Papillion-La Vista South High School, told the others he hadn’t been feeling well. All of a sudden, he collapsed.

Lawrence was unresponsive and had no pulse, so Dennis Svoboda, a member of the exercise group who is a lieutenant with the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office, started CPR.

As others called 911, Svoboda continued compressions for about seven minutes until one of the two Papillion police officers who responded stepped in.

“The adrenaline kicks in,” Svoboda said Wednesday. “I’ve done CPR on people before, but knowing the person ... I know the guy, I know his family. He’s a teacher, he’s taught my kids.”

Papillion Fire Department medics arrived and shocked Lawrence’s heart three times with an automated external defibrillator. When Lawrence came to, he was on a stretcher, and his wife, Jacqui, was there. “What the heck, guys?” he remembers saying. “I just passed out — why did you call an ambulance?”

Doctors at Bellevue Medical Center performed a heart catheterization and discovered a 90% blockage in his “widow maker” left main artery, which Lawrence said was inflamed and had closed completely. They inserted a stent and Lawrence, who is 50, felt “great” — except for a sore chest from the compressions.

“I was really surprised I didn’t have any broken ribs,” he said.

For his efforts, Svoboda has been given a Lifesaving Award from Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis.

After the Sept. 2 incident in the park, Svoboda said, he and Davis started talking with Papillion Police Chief Scott Lyons about getting AEDs into Papillion police cruisers. With donations from the First Responders Foundation, Midlands Community Foundation, Sarpy County Fair Board, PayPal, Tim and Tonee Gay and Lawrence’s friends, they and one of Lawrence’s workout buddies raised enough money to buy 11 AEDs, which cost $1,325 each.

Five of the AEDs will go to Papillion and six will go to the Sheriff’s Office, Svoboda said.

The incident also has prompted Lawrence’s workout friends to learn CPR. The Papillion Fire Department held a CPR course for those who were at the park who had not yet been trained, Svoboda said.

Lawrence’s relatives also have gone through CPR training, Lawrence said.

“I have had a lot of friends and acquaintances who either got CPR-certified or got (their health) checked out,” he said.

Lawrence said he thinks his heart issue was hereditary.

“My mom has also had surgery — she has had two stents put in,” he said. Lawrence, who is one of 11 children, said “we all have high blood pressure, and lots of us have cholesterol issues.”

For months before the heart attack, Lawrence said, his chest would feel tight when he ran. And about a month before his heart attack, he passed out for about three seconds, also during an exercise session.

After that incident, Lawrence went to the doctor and had an EKG and an echocardiogram. The tests found that his heart was “very healthy, really strong,” he said. “They just thought (the fainting) was an anomaly.”

Lawrence’s diet already was pretty good before the heart attack — lots of fish, chicken and fresh vegetables. He said he has cut down on butter and salt and has switched to other spices such as garlic powder and paprika to season his food.

He and Svoboda encouraged everyone to learn CPR.

“No matter who you are,” Svoboda said, “learn CPR because you never know when you’ll need those skills.”

Our best staff images from December 2020


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Bob Glissmann helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow him on Twitter @BobGlissmann. Phone: 402-444-1109.

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