Heart Attacks, Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler, Redd Foxx, AEDs and You

Automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, are designed for laymen like me, of course, but the next time the opportunity presents itself, I plan on getting trained. I'd like to learn how to use one even though I hope I never have to use one.

In the world of professional wrestling, to “kayfabe” is to present fiction as truth, such as “selling” an injury that never really occurred.

So with that blurred reality in mind, it was hard for fans to tell whether World Wrestling Entertainment commentator/wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler was “kayfabing” when he collapsed while calling a match on the Sept. 10 edition of Raw, which is the WWE’s signature weekly television show.

He wasn’t; Lawler had had a heart attack. Thanks to the quick work of medical staff on-site, a luxury that most workplaces obviously don’t have, Lawler survived. The medical workers helped save Lawler’s life by administering CPR and shocking him seven times with a defibrillator, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Lawler, as you might know, made headlines in the early ’80s when he feuded with comedian Andy Kaufman, who played mild-mannered mechanic Latka Gravas on Taxi. The two “arch enemies” made this famous appearance on Late Night With David Letterman (Note: The video is censored) where Lawler slapped the taste out of Kaufman’s mouth. Of course, the whole thing was staged. When thinking back to Lawler’s run-in with Kaufman, I started to think about another comic: Red Foxx.

I think the word “ironic” gets used indiscriminately today, but there’s no better word to describe Foxx’s death. Back in 1991, Foxx was taping a new TV show called The Royal Family when, at age 68, he had a heart attack on the set. At first the crew thought Foxx was re-enacting his heart-attack bit that he made famous on the classic 1970s show Sanford and Son. He wasn’t “kayfabing,” and a few hours later he was dead. (If you’ve never seen the show, Foxx’s character, Fred Sanford, would clutch his heart, feigning pain in his chest, and call out to the spirit of his deceased wife. He’d yelp out: “Hear that, Elizabeth, I’m coming to join you, honey”—or some version of that—whenever he heard bad news or got bonked on the head as in the above link.)

Heart attacks are, obviously, no laughing matter. According to the American Heart Association, a coronary event happens about every 25 seconds in the U.S., and someone dies every minute from such an event. After all, heart disease is still the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, and, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, there are 10,000 incidents of sudden cardiac arrest that occur every year in U.S. workplaces.

In our office, we have an automated external defibrillator, a device developed back in the 1970s, in case of an emergency. Of course, it’s still imperative to call 911 immediately, but having an AED handy could save a life.

AEDs are designed for laymen like me, of course, but the next time the opportunity presents itself, I plan on getting trained. I’d like to learn how to use one even though I hope I never have to use one. The chance of a successful defibrillation falls about 7 to 10 percent with each passing minute after a cardiac event, so being able to act quickly could improve someone’s odds of survival. It would just make me more comfortable, even though many websites remind us not to be afraid to use them. Good Samaritan laws protect people from lawsuits, and the machines are designed only to shock people who need it. Yet, AEDs aren’t perfect either as a reported 28,000 devices malfunctioned between 2005 and 2009.

If you have an AED and would like your workers to learn how to use it, the American Heart Association offers an online class for $23. If your company is going to invest in having an AED on-premises—an average unit costs about $2,300 and they do need to be maintained to ensure they work properly—a little training sounds like a wise investment to me. After all, in the real world, not many people “kayfabe” heart attacks.

On Dec. 5, I took a class offered by the American Red Cross. I am now certified in adult first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, and the use of an AED. While I wouldn’t say I feel confident in my lifesaving abilities, I will say that I’m glad I did it. I now know what to do, and as our instructor ensured us, it all comes back to you in an emergency situation. Hopefully, I’ll never have to use these skills, but if the time comes: My name is James Tehrani; I am certified in CPR and first aid. Do you need help?

James Tehrani is Workforce’s copy desk chief. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.