In Nov. 18 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Editor
Last week Ron Bertram got back to doing what he loves at the place where he nearly lost his life. Bertram, a tech ed teacher at Russell County High School who also teaches a martial arts based class for the 21st Century Afterschool program at the Russell County Auditorium, taught the latter class for the first time last Wednesday since his Oct. 13 incident.
Oct. 13th's session in the auditorium's workout room began like any other but that day would soon change Bertram's life forever.
"Unbeknownst to me I was born with a syndrome," he said. "It is called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and about one in every 10,000 people have this."
WPW is a syndrome of pre-excitation of ventricles of the heart due to an accessory pathway known as the bundle of Kent. This accessory pathway is an abnormal electrical communication from the atria to the ventricles. WPW is also a type of atrioventricular reentrant tachycardia.
Bertram said many people with the syndrome live their entire lives not knowing they have this issue.
"It just so happened that on October 13th, for some reason or another, it kicked in," he said. "It is an electrical problem and wasn't a heart attack or anything like that."
Bertram said he was born with one too many strands in his heart that controls the heart's rhythm.
"This thing kicked in and told my heart to flutter, cardiac arrest instead of beat," he said. "I just happened to be one in a million, probably … it was definitely a life-changing experience."
Doctors told the 54-year-old this condition could have kicked in at any time and the physical activity played no role in bringing the spell on.
Bertram said when his heart began fluttering, there was absolutely no pain.
"It was like I fell asleep," he said. "I do remember stuff … I was dead anywhere between nine and 11 minutes."
He said the nine to 11 minutes he was under he experienced something unexplainable.
"I want people to know there is a lot better place than this earth," he said."Don't let anybody kid you there's not."
He said somewhere along the line the school system had the insight to place AED machines around the district.
"A lot of times devices like that get shoved in the corner, as a matter of fact they had just changed the batteries in (the one at the auditorium) a week earlier," he said.
The automated external defibrillator is a portable device that sends an electric shock to the heart that will restore the natural heart rhythm to the victim during a cardiac arrest.
When the AED electrodes are applied to the victim's chest, it automatically analyzes the heart rhythm and the rescuer is then advised whether a shock is needed to regain a normal heart beat. The heart has been defibrillated when the victim's heart resumes normal beating.
His heart was shocked a total of five times between the AED machine and in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
"This community should be really happy with the way this school system is prepared for most emergencies," he said. "I have got to recognize the school system, the staff here, Susan Melton, Patty Meece, Jeff Kerr and Blake Hottinger and Keith Jesse. If it wasn't for those five reacting the way they did and the AED machines the school system is on the ball with, things just falling into place, my wife would be a widow."
Meece, the school district's lead nurse, said the students in Bertram's class at the time of the incident all were offered counseling following the incident.
"As Susan headed upstairs she had the presence of mind to call 991," she said. "We got the AED on him in about two minutes."
She said the school district has 12 total AED machines at their schools as a result of some federal grant money some years back. Melinda Thomas, another nurse, also helped out during Bertram's incident.
"AED machines can save lives," Meece said.
Bertram was then flown to Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington where doctors discovered his condition and mediated it.
"The electrocardiologist was ecstatic to see somebody that had this that they could repair because most people that come in and have this done they diagnose as heart attacks and I'm the farthest thing from a heart attack," he said. "He said I had the heart and artery system of a 20-year-old athlete … but I just had this one defect and it happened to kick in on that day that everything was in line to keep me here."
The only pain Bertram said he experienced was two small incisions the doctors had to do in Lexington to get rid of this extra heart strand.
"The electrocardiologist told me to continue doing whatever it was I was doing and do it even harder if I want because there is no risk of this ever happening to me again," he said.
Bertram said his five "earth angels" as well as the Russell County emergency personnel and ER workers kept him going through this ordeal.
"I have a son (Nick Bertram) who really reacted well, I've got a pretty, loving wife (Sharon) who cares a whole lot about me, I've got two daughters (Shanna Perkerson and Kara Branscum), a grandson and my son-in laws … I've got a lot to live for," he said. "I enjoy young people, I enjoy what I do and I've got a great family."
He said there were three reasons why he is alive today. "Divine intervention, I think God has got another plan for me to do something, my little 'earth angels' were here to take care of me and my physical condition, I'm in pretty good shape for a 54-year-old … I train pretty hard."
He said he didn't consider himself a lucky man, rather a man that has been blessed with a second chance in life.
"I thing the good Lord has got a plan for me to do something for somebody, I don't know what it is yet, I'm just kind of waiting around," Bertram said.
About a week ago Bertram began working out again and ventured back into his classroom at RCHS.
"I'm going to get after it," he said. "I've been involved in martial arts and character education ever since I came here to Russell County High School (in 1999); I've been involved in martial arts as a whole since I was 18."