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How to save a life: Cyclist rescued a stranger on Carmel Valley bike path

Ronan Brown, left, saved Ron Lazurus' life when he suffered cardiac arrest on the SR-56 bike path.
(Courtesy)

Carmel Valley’s Ron Lazarus’ story might have ended that day on October 11, 2020 when he suffered a massive cardiac arrest while riding his bike. Instead he was gifted a new beginning.

“I was dead on the 56 bike path.”

Carmel Valley’s Ron Lazarus’ story might have ended that day on October 11, 2020 when he suffered a massive cardiac arrest while riding his bike. Instead he was gifted a new beginning.

A stranger named Ronan Brown happened to be riding behind him and ended up saving his life by performing CPR.

The next month, Lazarus’ granddaughter was born and another granddaughter arrived two months later. Two baby girls he might have never met, cuddled or spoiled with all his heart.

Lazarus had almost never rode his bike alone before and Brown had never ridden that route before. Theirs is a story that has a little bit of everything: luck, revival, recovery, an unexpected act of bystander bravery, a Bee Gees tune and a protagonist with the hard-to-believe surname of Lazarus, the man Jesus miraculously raised from the dead in the Bible.

“It’s a feel-good story,” Lazarus said. “A terrific source of inspiration.”

That Sunday morning, Lazurus’ friends were going for a long bike ride but the 63-year-old wasn’t feeling that strong. The native South African decided instead to take a short ride alone and meet up with his friends for coffee.

He remembers being on his bike but has no recollection of what happened next.

Brown, a Solana Beach resident by way of England, had only started biking more last year due to the pandemic. Mostly, he prefers to play tennis or paddleboard but in the strange pandemic year, he was cycling about five times a week with a group of friends.

That Sunday ride was on a new-to-him route, a loop through Carmel Valley on the SR-56 bike path with friends.

They came up onto of the bike path next to the freeway, right after the path goes through the residential neighborhood of Palacio Del Mar. Lazurus was riding solo about 30 or 40 yards in front of him.

Brown saw Lazurus turn left, crash into the fence and collapse to the ground. His first thought was that like him, the rider simply didn’t know where he was going and had an accident. He and his fellow riders immediately dismounted to check on him and saw that the man was not breathing.

“He started going blue and I said: ‘He’s dead, mate’,” Brown said he told his friend.

There they were, “a bunch of 50-year-old blokes” who had never done CPR before. As a woman on the path called 911, Brown jumped into action and started doing chest compressions. He had accompanied his teenage children to CPR classes and said while he couldn’t quite remember the correct cadence, he knew that he needed to push very hard on the man’s chest.

“I just tried to pump as hard as I could. About thirty seconds in, he took a deep breath. I said, ‘It (bleeping) works!’,” Brown said. “I stopped pumping but then he stopped breathing again.”

People started gathering as he continued chest compressions, losing him and getting him back. An emergency room physician had happened upon the scene and encouraged Brown to carry on, telling him that he was doing the right thing.

Brown kept doing compressions for about five minutes, the emergency room doctor jumping in for about a minute, before the ambulance arrived and took him to the hospital. At the ambulance, he was again recovered with a defibrillator. Surgery was performed to implant a defibrillator.

According to the American Heart Association, 90% of people who have cardiac arrest outside of a hospital die. If CPR is performed within the first few minutes of cardiac arrest, CPR can double or triple the chance of survival. In the majority of cases, even any attempt to provide CPR is better than no attempt to help at all.

Brown estimates he started chest compressions about a minute after Lazurus’ cardiac event. Had it been any longer, he might not have survived.

No one took Brown’s name and Lazurus was off in an instant in the ambulance. Brown was 15 miles into a 50-mile ride so all he could do was simply keep riding.

When he got home and told his family what happened, Brown asked his 18-year-old daughter: “Do you know how fast I should’ve been pumping?” And she said ‘Yeah, ‘Stayin’ Alive’. She knew!”

One of the easiest ways the American Heart Association teaches hands-only CPR is to push fast and hard in the center of the chest to the beat of the Bee Gees’ classic song “Stayin’ Alive”, which is 100 beats per minute, the minimum rate you should push on a chest during CPR. “Stayin’ Alive” also became part of the zeitgeist thanks to an episode of “The Office” where Michael and the Dunder-Mifflin crew hilariously get distracted during a CPR lesson, abandoned the dummy and dissolve into full-on dancing and singing to the catchy song.

This method of CPR is called “hands-only” and does not involve breathing into the person’s mouth. According to the American Heart Association, hands-only CPR carried out by a bystander has been shown to be as effective as CPR with rescue breaths in the first few minutes of an out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest for an adult victim.

“I’ll never forget ‘Stayin’ Alive’,” Brown said.

Brown also could not forget the man and wondered what had happened to him— about two days later he even went to the San Diego Fire Station 24 in Carmel Valley to inquire after him but a different shift was working than the one that took Lazarus to the hospital.

“I didn’t know if he had made it,” Brown said.

“I didn’t know who saved me,” Lazarus said.

About a week later, Lazarus’ wife posted on NextDoor, telling the story of a stranger’s courage and asking if anyone knew the person who had saved her husband’s life. As Brown lives in Solana Beach, he wouldn’t have been able to see the post but by chance, a coworker who lived in Carmel Valley who had heard the story, did. The two were happily able to connect by phone.

As it was still deep into the pandemic in the winter, the two men only chatted on the phone. This summer, as things opened up more, they were finally able to get together in person for a beer.

Lazarus was with his wife, son and his granddaughter that he never would have met if not for Brown.

“His wife was tearful and meeting his granddaughter was quite sweet,” Brown said.

Ron Lazarus hike
Ron Lazarus, far right, with his hiking buddies Gary Levinson, Steve Tradonsky, Stephen Sass and David Shepherd in Alaska this summer.

(Courtesy)

After his cardiac arrest, Lazarus said his physical recovery proved easier than the mental aspect of being given a second chance at life: “You go through a lot of emotional stuff more than anything,” he said. “It’s a very spiritual thing…to get back and live a normal life.”

He was able to return to work in 10 days (his chest still sore from Brown’s pumping) and he was cleared by a doctor to again start riding on a stationary bike. Lazurus is part of a group of five South African friends who have hiked nearly every Saturday for the last seven years—he is grateful for his wife and his hiking buddies for getting him back on the trail again and steadily increasing his fitness.

Every year, the group of friends from Carmel Valley and La Jolla does one big trip together in the summer. They’ve done trips to Denver and hiked the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim. This year the group traveled to Alaska, where they fished and hiked and enjoyed the outdoors. They caught a 45-pound salmon that took two hours and five people to pull in and went on hikes up to 12 miles through glaciers and landscapes so beautiful that Lazarus said makes you feel like you are in a different world.

At turns, the friends all felt overwhelmed by emotions and gratitude,

“I thought this is a hell of a story. This is a guy who was dead and he is lucky to be here,” friend Gary Levinson said. “It’s an amazing story and so motivational for people who have faced adversity in their lives.”

“It was just unbelievable,” Lazarus said of the experience. “We were all happy that I was still there.”

Recently, Lazarus nominated Brown for the American Heart Association Heartsaver Hero Award, just one small way of saying thank you. Brown was once just a bystander, now a friend and always his hero.

“He saved my life,” Lazarus said.


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