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Retired minister has reason to appreciate auto defibrillator

By Donna Mcguire The Kansas City StarSNbS

KANSAS CITY - When fellow members at his Blue Springs church began debating last year whether to buy one of those battery-powered devices that can save a heart attack victim's life, retired minister Howard Campbell pushed hard for it.

"His deal was, if it saves one life, it's well worth the money," Campbell's wife, Jean, recalled Tuesday. "Little did he know he would be the one it would be used on."

Now, seven weeks after church members actually saved Howard Campbell's life with the machine, he is spreading the message:

All churches, senior centers, restaurants and other places that serve older people should have an automated external defibrillator, better known as an AED.

"It is like an insurance policy," said Campbell, 73, a retired United Church of Christ pastor who joined Good Shepherd Christian Church on Woods Chapel Road with his wife about five years ago.

"If you never use it, that's OK."

After a member provided about $2,100 as a memorial gift in honor of her husband, Good Shepherd purchased its AED last year and put six people, including Howard Campbell, through training. The volunteers learned they would need to have someone call 911 while other rescuers would need to take off the victim's shirt, attach the AED and let it tell them what to do.

The machine's first test came Feb. 9, a day the Campbells almost didn't go to church because Howard wasn't feeling well.

As the Rev. Ron Bowen was giving his children's sermon, Howard Campbell asked his wife if he felt warm to her. She felt him, said no and turned her attention back to the sermon.

"Oh, Jean," he said before passing out. His head fell back. His body began jerking.

His wife stood and announced: "Will somebody please call 911?"

Bowen, who'd never had a church member suffer a heart attack at church during his previous 34 years in the ministry, sent one person out of the sanctuary to make the call and asked a second person to get the AED.

A pediatric nurse who had been sitting in front of the Campbells started chest compressions.

Soon, the AED announced that the rescuers needed to shock their patient. They did. At one point, the machine also told them that their chest compressions needed to be done harder. They listened.

"It kept giving instructions like it was supposed to, and it did the job," Bowen said.

Medical workers later told Campbell that the AED and chest compressions had saved his life.

During Campbell's subsequent eight-day hospital stay, doctors inserted two stints and a pacemaker with a built-in defibrillator.

Bowen, knowing that Campbell retired from the ministry, told him: "Preachers do a lot of things to get their message across, but you didn't have to do that."

Campbell laughed Tuesday as he recalled that moment. He joked that Bowen's sermon "wasn't that bad," meaning it didn't have to kill him. And he suggests that the church change the words on its yard sign to say: "We save souls and bodies."

On the more serious side, he said the incident has given him a renewed sense of duty. Though he's retired from preaching in the pulpit, he can still do others good by preaching about AEDs, he said.

And he and his wife are grateful they went to church that day.

"If it (the heart attack) had happened at the house," wife Jean said, "he wouldn't be here today."

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