OCEAN CITY — A popular local man is on the mend and headed for surgery after finishing a heat in a surf contest Sunday before going into cardiac arrest and collapsing on the judges’ stand, thanks in large part to the quick actions of resort lifeguards and Ocean City paramedics.
Last Sunday, popular local surfer George Smith, 67, had just competed in a heat during a contest at Malibu’s when he collapsed on the judge’s stand while eating a slice of pizza, the victim of an apparent heart attack. A 911 call was placed, reportedly by an 11-year-old boy on the scene, and the Ocean City Beach Patrol and Ocean City Fire Department paramedics quickly mobilized to the scene, while family, friends and fellow surfers attended to the stricken surfer.
Ocean City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin said this week he heard the 911 call, but was uncertain initially about its source.
“The radio didn’t sound like the call was coming from outside,” he said. “We found out he had just surfed a heat and collapsed in the bandstand on the beach where the judges were set up.”
Arbin moved quickly to the scene from beach patrol headquarters downtown and arrived about four minutes later, just ahead of paramedics. When Arbin arrived, he said beach patrol officers were already performing CPR on Smith and were utilizing the Automated Electronic Defibrillator (AED) on the surfer.
“We were advised to shock him and we did so several times,” said Arbin. “We were able to get him stabilized, if not conscious. By the time he left the beach, he was breathing on his own and his color looked much better.”
Ocean City Paramedics arrived minutes later and took over the treatment of Smith. Arbin said all of the Ocean City Beach Patrol’s ATVs are now equipped with AEDs such as the one used on Smith. Arbin said beach patrol officers had utilized the AEDs on at least four other victims over the course of the week prior.
“In this case, we probably saved four minutes by having the AED,” he said. “Four minutes is a huge amount of time in cases like these.”
Once the Ocean City paramedics arrived, Smith was stabilized somewhat although he hadn’t regained consciousness. The O.C. paramedics quickly treated Smith at the scene and then transported him via ambulance to PRMC. According to his wife Dana Smith this week, he regained consciousness late Sunday night and was moved to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) room. By Tuesday, he was alert and responsive and on the mend, according to Dana Smith.
“George is progressing well in mind, body and spirit,” she said. “He is well on his way to being the same old hard-charging George, who always has the energy of a whirlwind. He has no memory of anything, of course, but he sounds remarkably good.”
Dana Smith could not say enough about the quick response, first from the surfers and other people in the judge’s stand, then the Beach Patrol and ultimately the paramedics. She related the story of the calm and cool paramedics on the way to the hospital and how reassuring they were as they navigated through heavy summer traffic.
“One of the paramedics, Jason, made me feel so hopeful when he forcefully stated that he had a really good feeling about George’s outcome,” she said. “He said George benefited from an ideal response scenario. It takes amazing people to deal with life and death firsthand, day in and day out. I’m grateful it was life for George.”
George Smith was doing much better later this week and was scheduled to have triple bypass surgery tomorrow. Dana Smith said the prognosis following the four-hour procedure was excellent with a predicted 99-percent success rate. Meanwhile, the local surf community responded all week with well wishes for a quick recovery and a plan to use the incident as a proactive teaching tool.
Delmarva Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) Co-Director Chris Makibbin this week was planning a seminar and teaching session on how to respond to cardiac arrest and administer CPR for young surfers prior to the next surf contest, the Chauncey’s Surfabout, at 30th Street on Saturday.
“We’re just looking for something good to come out of this whole incident,” he said. “When something like this happens, you can feel pretty helpless if you don’t know what to do. I asked one of the little kids afterward what he would have done if it had just been him and George on the beach and he said he better learn CPR. We feel like we can make the beach that much safer if we have more people out there and young kids who know how to react and what to do when an incident like this occurs.”