MJCC emergency team riding to the rescue

Two years ago, Marvin Gardiner was working out on the treadmill at the Marin Jewish Community Center as he did four mornings out of each week. Suddenly he collapsed.

"All I know is I was on a treadmill and down I went. Other than that I don't remember a darned thing" the 68-year-old Gardiner said.

Fortunately for Gardiner, the San Rafael MJCC had the foresight to form an emergency response team back in 1990, when the club's membership quadrupled after it opened new facilities. Todd Mikolajczyk, the MJCC's head fitness trainer, has a clearer memory than Gardiner of what happened the morning of his collapse.

"He was unconscious, no pulse, no breathing," Mikolajczyk said.

The emergency response team immediately administered CPR, gave him the drug Lydocane and used a defibrillator to shock Gardiner's heart. If the electrical rhythms to the heart get short-circuited, the heart starts quivering like a bowl of jelly, Mikolajczyk explained. The defibrillator re-establishes the heart's normal rhythm.

Gardiner was taken to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center and then to Marin General Hospital. Today, after bypass surgery and receiving a pacemaker and defibrillator, the San Rafael resident is back working out at the MJCC three mornings a week.

The six-member emergency response team comprised of the MJCC's fitness trainers are all CPR-certified and trained in first aid. Several have gone through an advanced cardiac life support class.

"Even though it's a requirement as a fitness trainer to be a part of the emergency response team, everyone's willing to do it," Mikolajczyk said.

When the MJCC moved to a new, larger facility, it became clear to staffers that an emergency response team was necessary, as users included cardiac patients, disabled people and families with preschoolers.

"We also realized that with California's record for natural disasters, there was the possibility that we might be closed off for a few hours or days," said Beth Goodman, MJCC marketing and communications director.

In the last year the emergency response team has answered 120 calls, three of them cardiac emergencies.

On Jan. 12, one of the MJCC's massage therapists wasn't feeling well and took the elevator instead of the stairs. In the elevator, he lost consciousness and stopped breathing. He had a heart attack.

"No one knew how long he'd been in the elevator," Mikolajczyk said. The therapist's recovery is taking longer than Gardiner's, but he's doing well, added Mikolajczyk.

Two months later, a 79-year-old man was in the locker room getting ready to swim when his heart — like Gardiner's — started quivering. He also collapsed, unconscious, his breathing stopped and he had no pulse.

Others in the locker room alerted the emergency response team, who treated the victim.

"None of us are going to get wealthy working here," Mikolajczyk said, "but I think everyone on the staff here enjoys working with people and giving of themselves."