LEVANT, Maine — When Jess Devou learned cardiopulmonary resuscitation at the age of 12 as part of a summer camp program, she never dreamed she would one day use the technique to save her father’s life.
Neither did her brother, Josh Devou, who learned the skill at Hermon High School.
But that’s precisely what happened about 11 p.m. on Feb. 16, which was Presidents’ Day.
“We were all home, which is kind of rare, because I go to school about an hour away,” said Josh Devou, 19, a student at Thomas College in Waterville.
“Basically, I heard my mom kind of yelling upstairs and I knew something was off,” he said. “So I went upstairs and realized something was wrong, so I got my sister and we all did what we had to do.”
Their father, 49-year-old Joe Devou, was upstairs in bed when he went into cardiac arrest. He had no history of heart problems, the siblings said.
“He stopped breathing and his heart wasn’t pumping or wasn’t pumping effectively,” added Jess Devou, 22, a student teacher at Hermon Middle School.
“I did CPR until the EMTs arrived,” she said. “I don’t really know how I knew what to do. It kind of just kicked in, I guess. I learned CPR when I was like 12, so 10 years ago, just in like a camp over the summer.”
“It was really scary but your adrenaline is kind of pumping and keeping you going, I wasn’t thinking about it that much. I was trying to do what needed to be done,” she said of the experience.
Meanwhile, Josh Devou and his mother, Mary Devou, were calling 911 and flashing the porch lights on and off to help emergency medical responders find them.
“You go into autopilot at that point. I can’t really explain it,” Josh Devou said.
Jess Devou continued CPR until Capital Ambulance paramedic John Malcolm and his partner, Boyd Walsh, and Levant Fire Chief Eric Strout arrived.
“His daughter was the one doing CPR when I walked in,” Malcolm said. “She was not playing around. Actually, I had to kind of convince her to step aside so I could start working. She did not want to let go.
“She was doing an amazing job. I thought she was going to put him through the floor,” he said.
Malcolm and Strout took over the chest compressions until they were able to administer a shock with an automated external defibrillator. A few minutes later, Joe Devou responded.
“Hey, Malcolm I think we’ve got a pulse,” Strout recalls saying at the time. “He was starting to breathe a little bit at that point.”
The save was a first for both Strout and Malcolm.
“I’ve never had it happen in 23 years,” Strout said.
Malcolm, who has been a paramedic for three years, said that while emergency medical personnel sometimes can get a pulse back, patients often die shortly afterward and rarely regain consciousness.
The siblings finally got to see their dad a few days later at Eastern Maine Medical Center.
“It was really emotional for everyone,” Josh Devou said. “A bunch of family came down and friends stopped by to check on him and visit him. There was a lot to take in and a lot to process,” he said.
Despite their actions last month, the siblings don’t see themselves as heroes.
“Anyone would have done the same thing, I think,” Josh Devou said.
His sister agreed.
“We’re just grateful that he’s still here and that we could help make that possible.”
According to the American Heart Association, 89 percent of those who suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest die because they don’t receive immediate CPR from someone at the scene
In addition, 70 percent of Americans feel helpless to act during a cardiac emergency because they don’t know how to administer CPR or because they are afraid of hurting the victim, the association says.
While 80 percent of sudden cardiac arrests happen in private or residential settings, only 41 percent of those who suffer cardiac arrest at home, work or in public get the immediate help they need until emergency help arrives, according to Strout, who also is chief of G & H Ambulance and a member of the American Heart Association state board.
“This story is particularly relevant as we are trying to pass a bill in the Maine Legislature that would require CPR training in all Maine high schools,” Brenda Vitali, spokeswoman for American Heart Assocation in Maine, said about last month’s save.
“So often, young people are the ones home with parents or grandparents as most cardiac arrests happen at home. Having these students trained and prepared to act will, no doubt, save more lives,” she said.
The Devous agree.
“I feel like most people who learn CPR probably will never have to use it,” Jess Devou said. “But if you’re in a situation where you do have to use it, if you did know what to do, you have the potential to save someones life and that’s huge.”
Joe Devou, they said, is recovering nicely and hopes to return to work at Eastern Maine Community College, where he is the information system manager, in early April.
Strout said that Levant Fire and Rescue is offering CPR certification classes on several days and at a variety of times next week. The fee for the four-hour program is $40, half of which will be donated to the American Heart Association.
For more information, visit the department’s Facebook page or call 884-7574.