- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - An off-duty fireman saved the life of a fellow player and pal during their regular noon-hour basketball scrimmage Monday.

Craig Wilhelm, 51, was revived by manual chest compression as well as an automatic external defibrillator at the YMCA after his heart stopped at least three times.

Wilhelm sat quietly in his room at CHI St. Alexius Health on Wednesday morning with his wife of 27 years, Pam, and daughter, Lexi, beside him. They also have a grown son, Jordan.

Wilhelm, a power plant worker, is basically in good shape for a middle-aged man, working out regularly three or four times a week via the non-league hoops. He has played regularly 20 years for the workout and camaraderie. Teams are compiled loosely on who can show that day, and players range in age from their 20s to 60s.

Doctors found no blockage or serious damage to Wilhelm’s heart after the episode, but are monitoring him. Doctors have not placed restrictions on him so Wilhelm says he hopes to continue playing.

Matt Wilkie, a firefighter of 20 years, was resting between games when he saw Wilhelm fall Monday.

“I was about to joke with him about the young guys being rough on us when he got up and fell again, and I knew something was not quite right. He had trouble breathing before we started compressions,” Wilkie told The Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/1Mjk1Ga ).

The players gathered around Wilhelm to help.

Wilkie said his skills as an emergency responder kicked in as they should have, but conceded it is a little different when he is using them for a good friend.

“You just revert back to your training. A couple of us swapped doing compressions,” he said.

Somebody brought Wilkie a defibrillator and shocked Wilhelm. When Wilhelm lost his heart beat again, Wilkie started chest compressions again. By this time, the ambulance arrived with its defibrillator, and Wilkie used that to shock his friend again before he was transported to the hospital.

Wilhelm doesn’t remember much about that, just that he was alternating between courts at the YMCA.

Pam Wilhelm learned of the crisis as she was leaving for work that afternoon and learned from a friend that her husband had gone into cardiac arrest.

“It was a complete shock …. They couldn’t intubate him because he had a seizure so they just put on a mask and squeezed air into him,” she said.

Without the AED, she was told, her husband would not have survived.

Tim Olson, operations director at the Missouri Valley YMCA, said the building keeps three AEDs and said the staff is trained in using them.

“We post them in spots where they can best be accessed in central locations,” said Olson, who praised the staff, member and the ballplayers during the medical emergency. “They activated the emergency response and controlled the environment. It really was a team effort.”

“I’m just glad it turned out well. I am happy to have him back. It’s surreal to have him just sitting there, especially when it was so different a few days ago,” Wilkie said.

“I am just overwhelmed. I am grateful,” Wilhelm said.

___

Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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