Fayette County

She had performed CPR on horses, not humans. Then a man collapsed at the YMCA.

City of Lexington lawyer Dave Barberie (center, blue blazer) is honored with Lexington paramedics, High Street YMCA staff and Dr. Allison Stewart, (second from right, front) and Dr. Karen Wolfsdorf, (far right) at Thursday night’s council meeting.
City of Lexington lawyer Dave Barberie (center, blue blazer) is honored with Lexington paramedics, High Street YMCA staff and Dr. Allison Stewart, (second from right, front) and Dr. Karen Wolfsdorf, (far right) at Thursday night’s council meeting. Photo provided by the LFUCG.

Dave Barberie has worked out nearly every day of his adult life.

Barberie, 50, a longtime attorney for the city of Lexington, has no history of heart problems, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

On Oct. 31, while in a noon exercise class at the YMCA on High Street, his heart malfunctioned. It wasn’t a heart attack. That’s caused by a blockage or circulation problems in the heart. It was sudden cardiac arrest — the electrical system in his heart malfunctioned.

“I don’t remember anything that happened that day,” Barberie said. But he knows he’s fortunate that his heart stopped at the YMCA in an exercise class with medical professionals.

“Only 10 percent of people survive. Most of the time people are alone and no one is there. ... Outside of a hospital, I can’t imagine this happening any place where they were more ready to deal with something like this.”

The heroic efforts of the High Street YMCA, fire department paramedics and two veterinarians — Dr. Allison Stewart and Dr. Karen Wolfsdorf — to save Barberie’s life were celebrated during Thursday night’s Urban County Council meeting.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray read a proclamation thanking those involved with saving Barberie’s life and named March 2 Dave Barberie day.

It was about halfway through the TRX exercise class — a rigorous class that uses suspension bands — when Barberie suddenly dropped to the floor, between sets the class runs on the track. Wolfsdorf, who also was in the noon class, returned from running laps and saw Barberie on the ground and class instructor Mark Wright leaning over him.

“He was on his side,” Wolfsdorf said in an interview Friday. “I remember trying to rule out whether he was having a seizure. I remember his eyes were open but he wasn’t responding. ... I remember looking up and telling them to call 911.”

Stewart — who also was in the class — returned from the track and saw Barberie on the ground and Wolfsdorf beside him. She hurried over. Wolfsdorf said Barberie was no longer breathing. She started breathing for Barberie while Stewart began chest compressions.

“We were all in shock,” Wolfsdorf said. “I remember I cleared his throat and opened his airway, and then Allison started to do chest compressions.”

Wolfsdorf is an equine veterinarian at Hagyard Equine Institute.

“I have given CPR to foals before, but not humans,” Wolfsdorf said.

Stewart, who graduated from veterinary school in July, learned in veterinary school how to give CPRs to dogs. In 2008, she learned CPR on humans through an outdoor wilderness class. Stewart works at the Boonesboro Animal Clinic in Winchester.

“I remember the instructor at the time saying that when something happens, nobody wants to do CPR because it’s a lot of responsibility,” Stewart said. The instructor said the most important thing to remember is to get involved.

Stewart kept the compressions going.

“He was turning different colors,” Wolfsdorf said. “He would occasionally take a breath but then he would stop. He went from pink to blue and then back to pink.”

Wolfsdorf had seen Barberie in the class before but had never met Stewart. It was while they were trying to revive Barberie that the two women learned they were both veterinarians.

“I remember saying something about having epinephrine in my trunk but not knowing how much to give to a human,” Wolfsdorf said. “Then someone asked me why I would have epinephrine in my trunk and I told them I was a veterinarian. That’s when Allison said she was also a veterinarian.”

Wright used his cellphone to call 911 as soon as Barberie collapsed. Fortunately, Lexington paramedics were returning from another call and were close to the YMCA, Barberie said.

“They were there within five, maybe six minutes,” Stewart said. “I know it wasn’t much time at all, ... but it felt like an hour.”

Paramedics had to shock Barberie four times before his heart started beating again. (Barberie was told that his heart stopped again in the ambulance and they had to shock him again before he got to the hospital.)

The High Street YMCA is less than five minutes from University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital. Barberie was put in a medically induced coma, and his body temperature was lowered. Reducing his body temperature decreased the chance of brain damage.

It worked.

“Something like 8 to 10 percent of people who do survive have some type of brain damage because of the loss of oxygen to the brain,” Barberie said. “I don’t think I do. Or I am no more brain-damaged than I was before.”

His heart stopped on a Monday. He was discharged from UK the following Sunday.

“They will never know why it happened,” Barberie said. During his stay at UK, doctors put a pacemaker and a defibrillator in his chest. If his heart ever malfunctions again, the defibrillator will restart his heart.

He was back full-time at his job at city hall in early December.

He credits his exercise regimen for his quick recovery.

He’s now working out again at the YMCA, where he also is a board member.

“I think when I first came back, I made Dave Elsen nervous,” Barberie said. Elsen is the executive director of the High Street YMCA. “He would follow me around.”

Elsen, Wright and other YMCA staff also were honored Thursday night. It was the YMCA’s quick response that helped save Barberie’s life, Gray said in his proclamation.

Wolfsdorf said she received periodic updates from Elsen and Barberie’s wife, Susie, while Barberie was in the hospital. She’s thankful that the man known for his grueling workout regimen not only recovered but is back at the YMCA.

“For Allison and I, we were used to medical emergencies, so we just jumped in,” Wolfsdorf said. “I had never performed CPR on a human before. And I don’t think I want to do it again.”

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall